What’s Cooking in… Budapest

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 48 of the March 2020 issue.
Adding water to the simmering Hungarian Goulash. Photos by Sandra Scott

When I was in Budapest, Hungary, in October 2019, I booked a cooking class with Chefparade (Budapest; phone +36 20 316 1876, cookingbudapest.com). Aside from myself, there was only one other participant plus Chef Geri Hajas.

The lesson included three recipes, including a variation on goulash, which in America has become a generic term for any one-pot concoction, but the word gulyás, commonly written “goulash,” means “cowboy” in Hungarian. The Great Hungarian Plain is home to the Hungarian cowboy, who predates the American cowboy.

The original dish, called bográcsgulyás, was a stew. Nowadays, the dish served in Hungarian restaurants and homes alike can sometimes be more like a soup.

There are different variations to the recipe. The dish was originally made with beef, but mixed meats are often used. Typical cuts may include shank, leg or shoulder. As a result, goulash derives its thickness from tough muscles rich in collagen, which is converted to gelatin during the cooking process.

Our class included the sampling of Hungarian alcoholic brewages, including Unicum, a Hungarian herbal liqueur or bitters, drunk as a digestif. The liqueur is today produced according to a secret formula of, reportedly, more than 40 herbs and spices, then aged in oak casks.

Unicum has a bitter herbal taste — an acquired one is the best I can say about it.

Sandra Scott can be reached by email at sanscott@gmail.com.

Hungarian Goulash Soup

2 tbsp lard or oil of your choice; animal fat is best
1 onion, minced
1 tbsp sweet paprika powder (you can also mix in some hot paprika, if you’d like)
1 pound beef, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tsp ground caraway seeds
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
3 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tomato, diced
1 Hungarian sweet yellow pepper or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
½ celeriac root, peeled and diced. Can substitute ½ cup diced celery. (Celeriac is a root vegetable closely related to celery.)
2 large potatoes with skins, cubed
Water, as needed
¼ cup csipetke pasta (a dumpling-shaped egg noodle) or the pasta of your choice

Sauté onions in lard (we used pork fat) over medium heat until onions soften and start to brown. Remove pot from heat, wait 1 minute, then stir in paprika. Add water a little at a time until mixture has a soup-like consistency. Return to heat. Add meat and spices (caraway seeds, salt, pepper, bay leaves and garlic) and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and yellow pepper and additional water, if needed, to cover ingredients. Cover pot and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Add remaining vegetables (except potatoes) and more water, as needed, to maintain a soup-like consistency.

When the meat is almost cooked through, add potatoes (and more water if necessary), cover and return to simmer. When potatoes are just barely tender, add pasta and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes.
Serve with fresh bread.

The goulash ready to eat.
The liqueur (or bitters) Unicum is uniquely Hungarian.
Diced vegetables ready to add.
Cutting the beef into bite-sized pieces.