Gulasch Nacht

Last weekend, after a long spell of suspiciously nice weather, we finally received what the Midwest does best during the winter: snow.  To me, it was a welcome sight; it was Saturday, I had no errands to run, so I stayed inside to cook and bake.  It’s now later in the week, the snow is still on the ground and the temperatures are, at long last, reflecting the season.  For whatever reason, last night felt like a “goulash night” (you know how I love my designated food nights). 

Growing up, my mom would prepare goulash several times a year, usually in the winter months.  It was full of ground beef, stewed tomatoes, bell peppers, and elbow macaroni.  I always loved it, but never really realized that what I was eating wasn’t exactly authentic.  It was a Midwest version of a Hungarian staple, sometimes referred to as “American Chop Suey.”  

I wanted to go as authentic as I could last night, so I decided to omit the ground beef, stewed tomatoes, bell peppers, and elbow macaroni.  So, what’s left, you ask?  I kept beef, but chose to go with cubes of sirloin rather than ground.  I packed it full of yellow onions, paprika (both sweet and smoked), and I decided to go with dumplings in lieu of potatoes or noodles.

From what I learned after researching goulash, the key to a rich and tasty dish are the onions.  You may be thinking the defining ingredient should be the paprika, and yes, that’s important as well.  But the onions, oh the onions.  Slice them as thin as you can – we used the mandoline at 1/8” setting – and let them sweat down slow and low.  By allowing the onions to hang out at a medium-low temperature, you’re enabling the natural sugars to come through.  Trust me, your dish will thank you for it.

After I started adding all the herbs and spices (toasted and ground caraway seeds, paprika, fresh thyme and oregano, bay leaf) the house started smelling incredible.  I was in heaven as I absolutely love the smell of caraway.  It was difficult, but we let the mixture simmer for about an hour in order to allow the flavors to come together and the meat to become tender.

I also threw in a few non-traditional ingredients I felt might enhance the flavor and give the dish a more silky texture.  Goulash is forgiving in that respect – take out what you don’t want and add what you do.  I went mostly traditional with a few substitutions and you know, it turned out to be the perfect cold weather dish on a night that finally felt like winter.

Hungarian Goulash
Adapted from weareneverfull.com

Ingredients:

2 large onions, sliced very thin (use a mandoline if you have one)
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, toasted and ground
3 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 tablespoon hot (or smoked) paprika
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons tomato paste
4 cups beef stock
2 pounds beef stew meat (sirloin or chuck), cut into 2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon vinegar (balsamic, red/white, or champagne)
1.5 ounces veal/beef demi-glace (can be found at WFM, Sur la Table, etc)
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
dumplings (recipe to follow)

Method:

In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-low heat and add onions.  Sprinkle sugar over and allow to slowly cook until translucent – about 30 minutes.  Stir occasionally and don’t allow them to take on any color. 

Add beef and stir, allowing to sear for a little while.

Stir in the garlic and ground caraway seeds and cook for a minute or two. 

Add both paprikas, the oregano, thyme, and bay leaf and saute for a minute or two.

Stir in tomato paste and vinegar and cook for a bit, then add beef stock, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Mix in demi-glace.

Allow this to come to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for an hour.

After 30 minutes of simmering, prepare your dumpling ingredients.

Dumplings:

2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Crack eggs into a bowl and sprinkle with salt.  Add flour and mix well.  Let stand for final 30 minutes of simmering to allow flour to mellow.  Drop by teaspoonful into goulash.  Cover and simmer 5 minutes after dumplings rise to surface.

Check goulash for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Ladle into bowls and serve with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.

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