Looking out from the front windows of our second floor flat, the sky is a patchy grey and the pavement covered in damp yellow leaves. Cars splash through a large, glossy puddle that is permanently pooled by the curb, and the air has turned cool enough that many of the people hurrying past are wrapped in scarves and coats. It’s goulash weather.
Goulash originated in Hungary in the 9th century (source), but versions of it have developed all over Europe since then. The recipe below has been adapted from one I found in a German cookbook called Heimwehküche (“Nostalgia Cuisine”), a collection of the sort of traditional dishes that German grannies have been rustling up in their kitchens – by heart – for decades. It’s actually a goulash from Vienna, which was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during its 49 year existence at the end of the 1800s, but much-loved dishes often cross borders, and like the Viennese Schnitzel, it’s popular in Germany, too. In Austria, Wiener Gulasch is typically served with rye bread; the Germans like fusilli pasta or boiled potatoes as alternatives.
There are no vegetables in this goulash. Beef and onion are used in equal quantities and stewed in pretty much just their own juices (with the help of a little red wine and some spices), rendering a deeply flavourful dish that tastes, as is so often the way, even better the next day.
Viennese Goulash | serves 4-6
3 tbsp olive oil
1kg stewing beef (Rindergulasch), cut into 4cm cubes
1kg yellow onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, crushed or grated
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp hot paprika
1 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp ground caraway seeds
1 large bay leaf
100ml red wine (can be substituted with water)
Salt and black pepper
Heat the oil over a high heat in a very large stewing pan or Dutch Oven and brown the meat, in batches, on all sides. Set the meat to one side, lower the heat and add the onions and garlic, stirring occasionally until they are soft and turning translucent and golden (which will take 10 minutes or so).
Add the meat back into the pan with the onions, then add the spices and tomato paste and season generously with salt and pepper. Stir to combine it all, then add the wine and give it another quick stir before covering as quickly as possible, and turning down the heat. Don’t be tempted to add any more liquid – lots of juices will be released during the cooking process.
Simmer very gently, stirring from time to time, for around 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender (press a chunk gently with a knife or the side of a fork – it should come apart easily). Remove the lid, turn up the heat and leave to bubble for 5-10 minutes, uncovered, to allow the liquid to reduce and thicken. Taste and season again with salt and/or pepper if necessary.
Serve with coarse bread (Bauernbrot), short fusilli pasta or boiled potatoes.