Goulash. Love the name. Sounds so mysterious, like something warriors in the Dark Ages would have wolfed down to make them strong before battle. I grew up eating my mum’s goulash, and it was good. But, sadly, it wasn’t actually goulash. It was chili. I only learned this years later, after I ordered goulash at a Hungarian restaurant in Wisconsin. What they served me looked nothing like chili, and everything like what you see above: A thick, meaty stew heavy on the paprika, served with little pasta dumplings on the side.
Making an authentic goulash is like running a gauntlet. There really is no one “authentic” goulash, as every Hungarian cook makes it her own way. Tomatoes? Green peppers? Verboten in some recipes, required in others. Sour cream? Typically only allowed as a tableside condiment, if at all — there is another dish, paprikash, that includes sour cream mixed into the stew itself. Vegetables? Sometimes, and most often carrots, parsnips and potatoes. Wine? Not usually. Stock. A little, if any. Beans? Hell, no!
After no small amount of research, the only constants I can determine are paprika and onions. Lots of onions and lots of paprika. More than you think you’d need.
As for the meat, beef is the most common I’ve seen, but as this is a wild food website, my goulash uses venison. Feel free to use any red meat here, from beef to bison to any form of venison; I used some pronghorn antelope given to me by a friend. If you are a vegetarian, I’ve seen mushroom goulash in Hungarian cookbooks, so use them instead.
What to serve your goulash with is also variable. Mashed, boiled or smashed potatoes are all common, as is spaetzle. This, I think, is an Austrian touch: Those of you who remember your history might recall that there was once this thing called the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Anyone care to guess who Franz Ferdinand and Gavrilo Princip were?
Since I wanted to make a Hungarian goulash, not the Austrian version (which also has sauerkraut in it) I went with the Hungarian version of spaetzle: a little pasta dumpling called csipetke (chip-ET-keh). Basically its an egg pasta dough pinched off into rough little noodley dumplings, which are either boiled in water or in the soup they go with. But because I made what the Hungarians called a porkolt — a really thick stew — you couldn’t boil the dumplings in it, so I cooked them in salty water and served them alongside.
The key to my version of Hungarian goulash is time. Cooking venison requires patience… and a potato masher. You cook the stew slowly for hours and then, when the meat is thinking about falling apart, mash the whole shebang with a potato masher to combine. This integrates everything and prevents that dryness you can get in the center of stewed venison chunks.
As for the csipetke, if there is an easier pasta to make I’m not aware of it. You need no tools other than your hands.
This is a perfect hunting camp meal or easy Sunday dinner. All it asks of you is time, and it rewards you with a spicy, rich, meaty bowl of goodness that sticks to your ribs and makes you want to come back for seconds. Jó étvágyat!
hungarian venison goulash
This is a reasonably authentic Hungarian goulash recipe, albeit stripped down to its basics and made with venison. But hey, they hunt in Hungary, right? You will want fresh paprika for this recipe, meaning the stuff that has likely been sitting around in your pantry since the Jurassic Period won’t cut it. Paprika needs to be bright red and smell wonderful. And if you don’t want angry Hungarians beating down your door, buy Hungarian Paprika.
I used antelope stew meat here, but any stew meat will work: Deer, moose, caribou, bison, and yes, beef and lamb work fine. I suppose you could make this with muskrats or hares and jackrabbits, too, if you stew them a long time and then pull off all the meat.
Oh, and don’t freak out about the huge amount of onions. They cook down.
Make the csipetke dumplings as the stew cooks; they only take an hour or so. Or just serve the goulash with mashed potatoes, pasta or even rice.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
- 1 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup lard or sunflower oil
- 2 pounds venison stew meat, cut into chunks
- 4-5 cups chopped onions
- 1/3 cup sweet paprika
- 1 tablespoon hot paprika
- 2 teaspoons caraway seed, divided
- 2 cups venison or beef stock
- 2 cups water
- To make the csipetke dumplings, mix the dough together and knead until it’s smooth, about 5 minutes. If the dough is really sticky, add more flour. You want a stiff, but pliable dough. Cover in plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour at room temperature. To make the dumplings, pinch off dime-sized little bits of the dough and flip them onto a well-floured surface. This can be done up to several hours ahead.
- Heat the lard over medium-high heat in a large Dutch oven or stewpot and brown the venison in batches. Salt the venison as it cooks. It will take 20 minutes or so for all the meat to brown. Remove the venison as it browns and set aside.
- Add all the onions and turn the heat to high. Saute the onions, stirring often, until they are browned. Add the venison back, then all the other ingredients except for 1 teaspoon of caraway seed. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for 3-5 hours, or until the meat wants to fall apart.
- To finish the dish, boil the csipetke dumplings for a few minutes in salty water, then drain and set aside. Use a potato masher to squash all the meat in the pot, then add the last teaspoon of caraway seed and mix well. Add salt if needed. Serve the goulash alongside the dumplings with some sour cream at the table to mix in.