I rolled out of my sleeping bag. The dirt floor of a wine cellar above Lake Balaton had served as a bedroom for some friends and I for the night. I stepped outside of the cellar, stretched and rubbed my eyes. There was a crisp stillness in the air. The lake, which stretched out from the bottom of the hill was, likewise, placid and cool. Balazs, who had woken before the rest of us, lit a fire that would heat water for our morning coffee. That campfire would also serve as our stove for the day's big project. During the next six hours we would tend to a simmering pot as was we laughed, talked, prepared ingredients and enjoyed the cellar's bottled bounty.
There was no written recipe for the gulyas that we would make. Each of my friends simply knew exactly when ingredients needed to be added and when the fire needed to me stoked. They worked in concert, none correcting or advising another. Knowing how to make the stew was a talent embedded in their Hungarian DNA and enhanced over the years by the tutelage of their mothers, fathers and grandparents. My job was to peel potatoes and help ensure the wine mugs were never dry.
By mid afternoon, it was announced that the stew was ready. Eagerly we grabbed bowls. Istvan ladled out portions to everyone. For the first time in hours we were wordless. Each of us, bowl in hand, spoon to mouth, sat side by side looking out over the lake.
That is the idyllic way that I learned to make Hungarian kettle gulyas. Although I have made gulyas for and with friends scores of times since, it is impossible to recreate that autumn day in 1995. That day at that place, among friends enjoying a meal that we took time and care to create was a special "moment in time" that etched itself in my long term memory.
Heath's Hungarian Gulyas Recipe
I don't have the Hungarian DNA, so I have relied on recipes, guidance from my friends and memories of that day at Lake Balaton. Over the years I have experimented with different recipes and methods. I have added and withdrawn ingredients depending on availability as well as taste. I have settled on a recipe that I believe best represents an authentic, tasty kettle gulyas. That recipe is below. It is popular among my friends and family. Enjoy.
About 3 tablespoons of cooking oil (I usually use olive oil. Hungarians often use lard)
1 large onion, chopped
1.5 pounds of lean stewing beef, cut in 1-inch cubes
At least 2 teaspoons of paprika. I usually use "csipos" (hot) paprika, but normal paprika can be used too. As the kettle cooks, more paprika can be added if desired. Paprika is important for two main reasons. First, a gulyas without paprika will not have an authentic flavor. Second, it provides color. Proper gulyas is meant to be red.
1.5 teaspoons of caraway seeds. Mash them in a mortar or with the back of a spoon to release their flavor.
2 pinches of marjoram
Salt to taste. I try to only add salt to meet my taste expectations, preferring to rely on the other ingredients to provide the rich flavors that I expect.
2 or 3 cloves of finely diced garlic
4 cups of beef stock or beef broth
2 medium hot Hungarian peppers cored and chopped in to thin rings or strips. To make a less spicy gulyas substitute one or both peppers with milder alternatives. Anaheim, poblano or yellow bell peppers are suitable options. Be aware that with substitutes you'll loose some of the distinct Hungarian pepper taste. If hot Hungarian peppers are not available, but you still want the heat, use the substitute peppers, and add in a couple table spoons of hot Hungarian paprika paste.
3 peeled and crushed canned tomatoes and the juice from the can.
2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut into half inch cubes.
Csipetke (pinched noodles) - this is really not optional - see the recipe below.
Of course a really good gulyas can be cooked inside on a stove, but it really is best cooked outside in a kettle. Outside over a wood fire infuses a delightful smokiness to the stew. If you must cook inside, adjust the following directions to meet your specific limitations.
Build a fire and set up your cooking tripod.
Pour yourself a beer while you wait for the temperature to rise. Wine is also an option.
Saute the onion in the cooking oil. When it begins to wilt, add the meat. Stir the meat every once in a while so that it doesn't stick.
This is a good time to take a sip of your beer.
When the meat is browned, pour 1/2 cup of water into the kettle.
Push the meat to one side. Add the paprika, caraway seeds, and marjoram into the side without the meat. A couple pinches of salt wouldn't hurt. Give the liquid and spice side of the pot a quick stir to help blend the flavors.
Add in the garlic and enough stock to cover the meat by a couple inches. Stir it all together. Partially cover the kettle.
Drink some beer. The gulyas needs to simmer for about an hour, so you have time to grab another one beer too. Stir the kettle occasionally and add more broth as needed in order to keep the meet covered with the liquid. This is also a good time to peel the potatoes and make the Csipetke dough (see below). When simmering, by the way, I suggest loosely covering the pot; just enough to let in some of the smoke and retain the heat.
After the gulyas has simmered for an hour or so, toss in the peppers and tomatoes. If you kept the tomato juice from the can, dump it in too.
After the kettle has simmered for 30 more minutes (a total of one and a half hours), introduce the potatoes. Make sure the meat and potatoes are covered by liquid. If you have any broth left, you can put it in. If you need more liquid, just add enough water to keep the meat and potatoes under the surface. Cook until the potatoes are done which should take about a half hour. Stir occasionally. It makes you feel like you're doing something and it makes anyone watching think you know what your doing. Taste the stew. If you think it needs some salt, go ahead, add some. While you're at it, don't forget to taste your beer.
When the potatoes are nearly done (meaning you can easily smash them with a fork), give it all a taste. Does it need more flavor? You decide and add more paprika, caraway seeds or marjoram if you desire. At this stage I sometimes add fresh ground black pepper. Maybe even add in a little paprika paste. At this point the gulyas should be the consistency of a clam chowder. Stir it.
When is the last time you took a sip of your beer?
Pitch in the csipetke. This is done by pinching off dime sized portions of the csipetke dough and tossing them into the simmering cauldron. Stir them in.
The csipetke are cooked when they begin to float. It usually takes about 10 to 15 minutes. By the time you finish pinching off the entire dough ball, most of the noodles will be cooked.
Make sure you have a mostly full beer or wine to enjoy with the gulyas.
Ladle your creation into waiting bowls.
Toast your companions and enjoy.
Czipetke (Pinched Noodles)
1 cup of all-purpose floor
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of oil.
Mix the flour and salt.
Add the egg.
Stir into a stiff dough. If necessary, add a few drops of water.
Kneed the dough until it is smooth.
Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes before pinching into the simmering gulyas.
Note: Some people prefer to make the csipetke separately from the gulyas by dropping the pinched noodles into a pot of boiling water and cooking them for 15 minutes. I like to pinch them directly into the simmering gulyas so they can soak up the flavor of the dish while they cook.
Beer: Light beers like pilferers or German lagers are always good choices. If you're making it outside, as recommended, the gulyas will likely have a bit of smokiness. A lightly smoked beer, like Schlenkerla's lightly smoked Pale Lager, in this case, is a good pairing. If you're making the spicy version, an IPA isn't a bad choice. IPA's help cut the spice.
Wine: The half-dry reds of Hungary are good choices. Look for Merlot from Villany or a Balaton Kekfrankos or a blend from Szeksard. I prefer a wine from eastern Hungary called Egri Bikaver (Bulls Blood of Eger), but mostly because I like the story that goes with it. The earthy robustness of a Rioja is also a smart choice. The same would be true enough for a Zin.
Water: Nothing wrong with good ol' water.