Hungarian Beef Pörkölt is what I discovered when I was in Hungary to be what most people refer to as Goulash. Goulash I was kind of sternly informed is actually a soup and this stew is not. This stew is Pörkölt. I considered myself enlightened.
When I flew into Hungary, from Istanbul I had a horrific bout of food poisoning from what I deduced was from a mediocre lentil soup I'd insisted on eating the day before. I was exploding from all entrances and exits (if you catch my drift).
Palinka to the rescue
On arrival, the friend we were staying with, also a doctor, prescribed a classic Hungarian remedy. This 'medicine' was a BIG glass of turpentine mixed with kitchen cleaner, also known as Palkina - the brutal national alcoholic(s) beverage made from liquid hell.
But you know what!? It did the trick! All bugs were completely nuked. Totally cured.
Instead of easing myself back into things, I jumped head first into a city made of meat, and little else. Central and Eastern European food is amongst my favourite for hearty, warming comfort food, but it's also light on vegetables and salad. It was December and absolutely FREEZING in Budapest so I was pretty pleased with all this comfort food. So much comfort!
Meltingly tender beef in Paprika
This Pörkölt was one of the first things I ate after my sickness and absolutely inhaled it. It's such a rich, decadent sauce, packed with the complex, smoky peppery flavours of Hungarian paprika. It's an absolute dream! There's not a lot of complexity in preparing this dish, It just sits on the stove to do its magic over three hours (minimum). Time is crucial in making it the marvel that it is. Prepare it in the morning at the weekend and leave it to cook for as long as you dare to get the most amazing results.
I ate this a second time in the small city of Nyíregyháza (don't ask me how it's pronounced - Hungarian is the strangest language I've ever encountered. There are absolutely NO audible clues in this bizarre language). This version of Pörkölt came with a garnish of raw green peppers thinly sliced on top, one of the only green things I saw in Hungary incidentally. It was also adorned with a 'bacon crown!' (an impressive slab of deep fried bacon fat, expertly carved into a crown-like crescent. I was only permitted to eat half of this by my overly-zealous partner. I think I may have had a grown-man tantrum in the restaurant. I still cast it up from time to time.
Hangover? Get some Pörkölt in you.
The Pörkölt was especially welcome that day as it was served the day after a heavy Palinka session the night before, where I think I may have been the drunkest I've ever been in my life. The last thing I recall that night was eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the pub floor and smoking a pipe - I do not smoke.
So, this dish holds many a fond (and hazy) memory for me. I'll make it when the weather turns - just as it has here in Vegas right now. It's best served piping hot on a freezing cold day with lots of steaming mashed potatoes or spaetzle and a generous drizzle of sour cream.
How to make my Hungarian Beef Pörkölt
- 700 g Beef chuck (stewing beef) (cut into large chunks)
- 2 large onions (halved and thinly sliced)
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 garlic cloves (peeled and chopped)
- 2 tsp caraway seeds
- 2 tbsp mild paprika (Hungarian if you can get it)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 medium tomatoes (peeled & chopped)
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 green bell pepper (seeded and sliced)
- Sour cream (to serve)
- In a large casserole pan, heat the butter over a moderate/high heat. Fry the beef pieces until brown on all sides (around 5 minutes). Remove from the pan.
- Add the onion and garlic, caraway and bay leaves to the pan and stir. Let these fry, stirring regularly for about 5 minutes until softening and golden.
- Add the tomatoes and return the beef to the pan. Stir in the paprika and salt and grind over a generous amount of black pepper. Let the sauce come to a simmer, before pouring in around 700ml water (just enough to cover the beef). Let this come to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer very gently with the lid on for 3 hours, until the beef is meltingly tender and the sauce glossy and rich. Stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.
- Scatter over the green pepper slices and serve. I serve mine with lashings of mashed potato, like I had in Budapest and added some sautéed cabbage of steamed broccoli which I never saw once in Budapest :)
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