What is Hungarian Goulash (Gulyas)?

Traditional goulash is the national dish of Hungary, and a very simple and soul-soothing meal.  It is somewhere between a stew and a soup, a very saucy stew, if you will.  It’s a perfect blend of beef and vegetables, enhanced by a hefty dose of sweet paprika.  

Hungarian Goulash

I live in an area of New York that used to be known as Little Hungary.  There are still a handful of Hungarian places around, but many fewer than there were in the 20th century.  But around the corner from me there is a Hungarian restaurant and bakery (piles of strudels and pastries in the window) called The Budapest Café with veal goulash on the menu.  And two blocks south of us is the Hungarian House, which is the home for several Hungarian service not-for-profits.  

My mother was a fan of all of this as a young person growing up in the area as well.  And she also remembers regularly going to a restaurant called Czardas (named for a Hungarian dance) in the 1960s, and eating the best goulash of her life there.  

It was time that I figured out goulash in my own home!

Hungarian Goulash

What is the Difference between American and Hungarian Goulash?

Typically Hungarian goulash contains cubed stew meat, usually beef, while American goulash is based on ground beef.  

Hungarian Goulash features potatoes, and American Goulash is made with pasta, usually cooked right in the sauce.

Hungarian Goulash doesn’t have sour cream or other creamy ingredients included in the stew itself, though you are welcome (encouraged!) to dollop some sour cream on top.  It also doesn’t usually contain mushrooms, green peppers, or cheese which are more common in American Goulash.

Hungarian Goulash

What is the Difference Between Hungarian Goulash and Beef Stew?

Hungarian goulash is saucier than most stews, somewhere between a soup and a stew.  And one of the big defining characteristics of Hungarian goulash is lots of paprika.  Caraway seeds are a common ingredient as well, optional in this recipe.  Both usually contain cubed stew meat and vegetables.  Potatoes are a staple in most Hungarian goulash recipes.

Hungarian Paprika in Goulash

You want to use the freshest paprika you can for this recipe, since it’s a star ingredient.  A great Hungarian goulash rests on great paprika, most often the sweet version. Please try and get your hands on Hungarian paprika, which is in a class by itself.  Some words to look for on the packages are Edes nemes (noble sweet), dolce sladka, uss, dolce, doux, or from Szeged.  Do not use hot or smoked paprika in this recipe, which would be overwhelming.

The paprika is added to the onion mixture and stirred for just a couple of minutes before the liquid is added.  Paprika scorches easily, so make sure the heat level isn’t too high. Don’t leave it in the pot before adding the next ingredients for more than a couple of minutes.

Hungarian Goulash

Tips for Making Goulash

Use a Dutch oven or heavy pot with a tight fitting lid.  There is a minimal amount of braising liquid in this dish, so you want a heavy pot with a tight seal so that the meat braises and turns very tender.

Don’t be afraid of including too much paprika!

Don’t let the paprika burn or get too dark in the pan.  This will cause it to become bitter.  You just want the roux or paste to become golden in color.

Hungarian Goulash

Use waxy potatoes if possible.  Baking potatoes will start to fall apart in the stew as they get tender, while waxy potatoes will keep their shape as they cook through.

Hungarian Goulash: This classic saucy stew served over egg noodles is perfect cold weather stick-to-your-ribs comfort food.

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What Kind of Meat to Use in Goulash

You can use any good quality stew meat you like, but make sure the meat is cut into 1 ½ inch pieces, not smaller, so that you get nice, hefty chunks of tender meat in the dish.  I use boneless beef chuck eye roast.  If you can either cut your own meat or buy freshly cut meat from a butcher, you’ll get the best results.

Unlike many stews, this goulash recipe doesn’t require browning of the beef before it’s mixed with the other ingredients.  This is a delight of a time saver.

Hungarian Goulash

How to Make Hungarian Goulash 

Cook the bacon until crispy, then set aside.  Return the pan to medium heat and add the vegetable oil.  When the oil is hot, add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until softened, and just golden.  Add the garlic and sauté for another two minutes, until the garlic is golden.  Add the paprika, caraway seeds (if using), and flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, until it looks kind of like a golden paste; don’t let it brown. 

 Whisk in the tomato paste, and then add the bell pepper, beef cubes, 2 tablespoons vinegar, bay leaf, beef broth, water and crisped bacon pieces.  Season with salt and pepper Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately lower the heat to medium and keep the goulash at a simmer, tightly covered, for 2 hours, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes.   

Add the potatoes to the stew, stir well, and cover the pot again.  Return to a simmer and simmer for another hour, stirring occasionally, until the beef and all of the vegetables are very tender.  Stir in the remaining tablespoon vinegar, taste and adjust seasonings and serve hot over the egg noodles, if desired.  

Hungarian Goulash

Pass the sour cream on the side.

How to Store Goulash

Goulash can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, well covered.  You may want to add some water as you reheat it over low heat to thin out the sauce a bit.

Freezing Goulash

You can freeze goulash for up to 6 months in a tightly covered freezer proof container.  When you fill the container, make sure to leave ½ inch headroom, as the stew will expand as it freezes.  Allow the goulash to defrost in the fridge for at least 24 hours, then gently reheat in a pot over low heat until hot throughout.

How to Serve Goulash

Serve Hungarian goulash over lightly buttered egg noodles, with sour cream passed on the side.  Also, pass around some nice crusty bread to sop up all of that beautiful sauce!

Hungarian Goulash

What to Serve with Hungarian Goulash:

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Hungarian Goulash

This classic saucy stew served over egg noodles is perfect cold weather stick-to-your-ribs comfort food.
Yield: 6 People
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 3 strips thick cut bacon , sliced into ½-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or other neutral oil
  • 2 large onions , chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 4 tablespoons sweet paprika , preferably Hungarian (see Note)
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 red bell pepper , cored, seeded and diced into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 pounds stew meat , such as boneless beef chuck eye roast, cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar , divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups beef broth , preferably less-sodium
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 pound small potatoes , halved or 2 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Hot cooked egg noodles to serve (optional)
  • Sour cream to serve

Directions

  • Line a plate with paper towels. Place the bacon in a large heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid, such as a Dutch oven. Cook over medium high heat, stirring often until browned and crispy, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon to the paper towel lined plate, leaving the bacon fat in the pan.
  • Return the pan to medium heat and add the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until softened, and just golden. Add the garlic and sauté for another two minutes, until the garlic is golden. Add the paprika, caraway seeds (if using), and flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, until it looks kind of like a golden paste; don’t let it brown. Whisk in the tomato paste, and then add the bell pepper, beef, 2 tablespoons vinegar, bay leaf, beef broth, water and crisped bacon pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, then immediately lower the heat to medium and keep the goulash at a simmer, tightly covered, for 2 hours, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Add the potatoes to the stew, stir well, and cover the pot again. Return to a simmer and simmer for another hour, stirring occasionally, until the beef and all of the vegetables are very tender. Stir in the remaining tablespoon vinegar, taste and adjust seasonings and serve hot over the egg noodles, if desired. Pass the sour cream on the side.

Nutrition Information

Calories: 511kcal | Carbohydrates: 25g | Protein: 56g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 12mg | Sodium: 516mg | Potassium: 725mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 5g | Vitamin A: 3097IU | Vitamin C: 46mg | Calcium: 73mg | Iron: 3mg

The nutrition values are provided as an estimate. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional.

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