Hungarian Pörkölt (or what we wrongly refer to as goulash)

I was very privileged to visit the incredibly colourful country of Hungary two years ago- steeped in rich history with remnants of a communist past and filled with colour to banish that dark history. It is here that Danube flows ever so blue dividing the two great cities of Buda and Pest that only become one late in the 19th century.

The history of Hungary is one filled with occupation, war, and revolutions, and it is evident throughout the city.  They did however, successfully maintain their own identity, and it can be seen in the art and architecture throughout the country. It is also very evident in their food and goulash, paprikash and pörkölt are some of their most famous dishes today. There is also, of course, a strong historical influence found in dishes such as speatzle which has a German/Austrian origin.

I was very surprised to learn that the meaty stew that we commonly refer to as goulash is actually a soup that contains meat and vegetables, whilst the meat stew is called pörkölt and does not contain vegetables. There seems to be some debate surrounding this, but I base my recipe on what I was told at a cultural centre in the Hungarian countryside. There we got to sample some of their fantastic dishes and were entertained by traditional Hungarian dances and music. On a different note, the countryside and historical oak forests are well worth a visit with very rich history and architecture dating back to almost a millennium ago.


Back in Budapest I  retried all of the dishes (as far as I know paprikash refers to a creamy paprika based sauce which is often served with chicken), and came back to South Africa knowing that beef pörkölt is one of my new favourite dishes.  I attempted to recreate what I tasted in Hungary several times and this recipe is the closest that I have gotten. This is also where my love for paprika originated and when I refer to good quality paprika in recipes, I have the real Hungarian stuff in mind.

With easter weekend upon us, and time to spend in the kitchen this is the perfect slow food recipe for a great family meal.  Like all good things in life, it requires a lot of patience and some good quality paprika!  This recipe serves 4-6 people.

600 grams cubed beef (on the bone works just as well, and have a bit of fat on the meat doesn’t hurt either)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 brown onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 tin tomato paste (70 grams; fresh tomatoes can also be used)

2-4 large tablespoons of both spicy and sweet good quality paprika

Enough stock or water to cover the meat completely

sour cream to serve (optional)

Heat the oil over moderate heat.  Brown the meat (I do dust mine in flour, but this is not the Hungarian way to do it), and remove from the pot. Add the butter, and sauté the onions and garlic for 5-8 minutes. Add the paprika, and saute for another minute. Place the meat back in the pot, add the tomato paste and stir well. Add enough stock or water (I use water), to cover the meat completely and turn down the heat.  Allow to simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours over low heat, stirring occasionally to ensure that it does not burn or stick to the bottom of the pot. The sauce will gradually change in colour, becoming a darker red and almost shiny (glisten).  If the meat is butter soft, and the sauce has thickened the  pörkölt is ready to serve. I serve it with egg noodles (german speatzle or known as nokledi in Hungarian) but I will give you the recipe (and manner to make it) that I was taught by a very good German friend of mine.

1 cup flour

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

To prepare:

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup fresh, chopped parsley

white pepper, salt and nutmeg to taste

Sift the flour in a large bowl and add the nutmeg, white pepper and salt to taste.  Whisk the egg and milk together in a separate container and slowly add to the flour whilst stirring to prevent lumps forming.  It should be the consistancy of thick pancake batter.  Bring water to boil in a large pot.  Spread some of the batter on a cutting board, and using a long, sharp knife separate the batter and flick it into the pot using a quick motion. This should result in something that is a longish noodle shape. Don’t make them to thick! Allow the noodles to boil until they float to the top and remove with a slotted spoon.  Once all the noddles are cooked, melt butter in a pan over high heat, add the noodles and fry them for 5-10 minutes until golden brown. Add a large handful of freshly chopped parsley and mix well.  Pörkölt is traditionally served with buttered egg noodles.

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