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This Authentic Hungarian Goulash recipe is packed full of slow-cooked flavor, melt-in-your-mouth tender chunks of beef in a rich, thick broth.
My grandfather lived in Hungary until his early 20s when he moved to Germany after World War II. He met my grandmother, started a family, and eventually moved his family to the US in 1955. He kept a little bit of his home country close, through bits and pieces of treasured history, like a family tree poster and a few classic Hungarian dishes that my grandmother would cook for him. She was also pretty famous for sharing the German recipes from her own heritage, like Authentic German Spaetzle, German Potato Salad (Swabia Style) and Cucumber Salad.
Tragically we no longer have some of those recipes to pull from, so this Hungarian Goulash recipe is the closest thing we’ve been able to recreate. And it is absolutely delicious and comforting, and reminiscent of long talks around the family table.
What is the Difference Between Hungarian Goulash and American Goulash?
Authentic Hungarian Goulash is a tender beef stew, simmered with red peppers, onion, tomato paste, and beef broth and seasoned with Hungarian paprika. Grandma always added a bay leaf for the extra punch of flavor. Everyone seems to have their own way of making this dish and my grandma was no different! It feels very rustic, and pairs well with a crusty loaf of bread.
American Goulash is more of a simple dish, made with ground beef, tomatoes and macaroni. Sort of like a Chili Mac without the cheese.
How to Make Authentic Hungarian Goulash
If you search the internet for a traditional Goulash recipe, you’re likely to come up with thousands of different recipes, including simplified recipes made with ground beef, like my Goulash Soup.
To make this classic recipe, however, you’ve got to follow all the steps – no shortcuts here, and they’re mostly about time. There are two methods I use: Stove top and slow cooker.
For both stove top and slow cooker methods, you’ll first soften some chopped onion and red bell pepper,and toast garlic and a bay leaf. Then add the beef, paprika, salt and pepper and cook for several minutes to brown the exterior of the meat.
Stove Top Goulash
- Stir in beef broth and tomato paste.
- Boil, then reduce the heat and let the stew simmer until the meat is tender.
- The longer you can let it simmer here the better, but at least an hour and a half to two hours.
Slow Cooker Goulash
- Add the beef to your slow cooker and stir in the beef broth and tomato paste.
- Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 hours.
Top Tips and FAQs for Authentic Hungarian Goulash
Use Hungarian Paprika
Not all paprikas are created equal. For this recipe, you’ll want to use only the sweet Hungarian paprika (this is the specific brand that we always use). That’s not to say that you absolutely cannot use a regular or smoky paprika, but it will alter the taste somewhat, as it is the base of the flavor.
Don’t cut the cooking time
This stew requires a cooking time of around 2 hours on the stove-top. A lot of that time is just baby-sitting the pot, but you’ll want to make sure you have the time. Alternatively, you could make this recipe in the slow cooker. Just brown the meat and vegetables first for several minutes on the stove and add the other ingredients into your slow cooker on high for 4 hours or low for 6 hours.
The longer you can let the meat cook, the better. Low and slow is best; it allows the fibers to be broken down, making the stew extra tender and easy to chew.
What Cut of Beef is Best for Hungarian Goulash?
The great thing about a stew like this is that it simmers and cooks for a long time, making it perfect for cheaper cuts of meat that would otherwise be tough. A thick flank steak or chuck roast work great.
Packaged stew meat can also work and is usually pretty budget friendly. Keep in mind though that packaged stew meat contains discards from when the butcher is cutting up large roasts and may contain more than one type of meat (chuck, top round, etc) which can result in some pieces becoming more tender than others.
How do you thicken goulash?
If your gravy is too thin for your liking and you’d like to thicken it, you can do that by adding a cornstarch slurry. In a small bowl, whisk together a tablespoon of cornstarch and a tablespoon of water, then pour that into the bubbling stew. Give it a good stir and let it simmer for at least 5-10 minutes.
Make it creamy
Add a dollop of sour cream to each bowl as you serve them, or a ¼ cup of heavy cream during the last several minutes of cooking time. The paprika flavor can be quite intense, and the cream can help tone that down a bit.
My grandma added sour cream to almost everything, even her homemade chicken soup!
How to serve Hungarian Goulash
Serve your traditional Goulash in shallow bowls. It pairs best with classic egg noodles, spaetzle or make ahead mashed potatoes. Since it is bright red in color, a pinch of fresh minced parsley adds some nice contrast and freshness to this dish.
Make sure to remove the bay leaf before serving. It adds great flavor but cannot be eaten.
Here are some more recipes with a European flair:
And a few more soups and stews to try:
Classic Hungarian Goulash
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion chopped, about 1 ½ cups
- 1 sweet red pepper seeded and diced
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 pounds beef stew meat cut into 1-2 inch chunks (chuck roast)
- 3 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika or regular is fine but will change taste somewhat
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup beef broth
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste or a 6-ounce can
- Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and red pepper and cook until soft; about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic and bay leaf and continue to cook for 1 minute.
- Add beef to the pot and stir in paprika, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until meat is browned; about 5 minutes.
If Making on the Stove Top:
- Stir in broth, tomato paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low; cover and simmer until meat is tender; about 2 hours. Remove the bay leaf.
If Making in a Slow Cooker:
- Transfer meat mixture to the slow cooker. Stir in broth and tomato paste. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6 hours. Remove the bay leaf.
- Serve over cooked egg noodles and garnish with fresh chopped parsley. For a creamy goulash, add a dollop of sour cream.