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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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: