A lot of us grew up thinking goulash was something like Beefaroni. And while there are many recipes like that, all perfectly fine, that’s not what I was cooking for our wedding anniversary dinner!
No, rather, I wanted a slow-braised and more traditional Eastern European beef goulash. A peasant dish. An incredibly rich and deeply-spiced stew to serve over noodles.
You know my rule: Always use the best ingredients you can reasonably afford.
So I start with about two-and-one-half pounds of locally-raised chuck roast from the butcher shop. You don’t need expensive cuts to have good quality! I cut this into bite-sized cubes and sear those, in batches, in a hot pan with a few drops of oil and toss them into a dutch oven.
Then, I rough-chop a couple of onions, add a bit more oil to the pan, and cook them with a bit of salt (to help draw out the water) for 5-10 minutes until they are browning and tender. Toss those into the dutch oven with the meat when done.
Then, I add the spices to the pan and toast them for a few minutes, stirring constantly to keep from burning.
The kitchen smells amazing by now and people are peeking around the door to see why. And I love that.
Deglaze the pan using a bit of chicken stock, maybe a cup or so, and scrape free the beautiful bits of brown from the bottom of the pan (a.k.a. fond, French for “base”) with a wooden spoon before pouring it over the meat and onions.
I’m using my 6 quart go-to Lodge dutch oven with ceramic coating so food sticking is minimal. If your dutch oven is stainless or aluminum, make sure you scrape the bottom and sides well while it cooks.
We’re on our way now.
The rest of the ingredients go into the pot. Stir well, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let it cook low-and-slow for a couple of hours. Stir occasionally, uncovered, until the meat is tender but not falling apart. Don’t let it overcook to mush!
I like my goulash thick like a ragu or bolognese. But, if you want yours a bit thinner, maybe you’re serving it over rice instead of noodles, then add another cup of stock to the pan.
Wait until near the end when the liquid is mostly finished reducing to adjust your salt and pepper.
Serve over noodles (or rice or spaetzle, I used gemelli pasta this time) with a simple green salad or some roasted vegetables and maybe a little rustic bread. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream if you like. I add a bit of green onion too.
Classic Beef Goulash
A classic goulash yields the tenderest meat, cooked low and slow in an incredibly rich and deeply spiced broth, until it's silky smooth.
- 4 tablespoons oil I use an organic canola.
- 2 1/2 pounds chuck roast, cut into cubes
- 2 onions, medium, chopped about 2 cups
- 2 garlic cloves, large, chopped about 2 tablespoons
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground caraway
- 1 teaspoon marjoram
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
Cut the meat into bite-sized cubes, about 1 inch square.
Coat a pan over medium-high heat with two tablespoons of oil and sear the meat working in batches. (Don't overcrowd the pan!) We're just browning the meat here, not trying to cook it through. Put the browned meat aside in a dutch oven as you go. Leave the juices in the pan.
Coat the same pan, still over medium-high heat and still with the leftover meat juices, with another two tablespoons of oil. Toss and cook the onions until they are browning and a bit tender, 5-10 minutes. With a minute or two left to cook, add the garlic. Keep stirring. Then add all of this to the dutch oven.
Pour the spices (except the bay leaf) into the pan, stirring slowly and constantly, for a few minutes to toast them. Don't let them burn. When you really start to smell them, they're done.
Deglaze the pan with a cup of chicken stock and scrape the good stuff off the bottom of the pan. Pour it all into the dutch oven over the beef, onions, and garlic.
Add the rest of the chicken stock, the bay leaf, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, and sugar to the dutch oven. Gently mix well.
Bring the goulash to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let cook for about two hours, stirring occasionally. Start checking the tenderness of the meat at about the hour-and-a-half mark to make sure it's super tender but not quite falling apart when you pick it up with a fork.
Taste it! Adjust salt and pepper to taste as needed.
Serve over noodles with a dollop of sour cream and some green onions.
This is one of those dishes that is just so good you wish you could wrap it up and give it as a gift.
So invite people over for a table of friends and family when you make it. Sure, it’s too rich for every day. But every once in a while you can be a hero too. Especially when it’s this easy!
“I’m ready for my close up, Mr. DeMille.”