Sunday, 8 February 2015

Austrian Goulash

I am often inspired in the kitchen by places we've been and specific memories of travel. Our honeymoon was an absolute gold mine of culinary experiences (Italy, Austria, Germany and France). Although we loved each and every spot visited, Dave and I felt most comfortable in Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg made us want to quit our jobs, and move, a la House Hunters International.

I wasn't a stranger to the Austrian and German dishes we ate on our honeymoon. Dave's family all hail from Germany so over the years I've tried many of the classic dishes (rouladen, schnitzel, red cabbage). However, I think Austria was the first time both of us ever tasted Goulash. Dave probably ordered it mostly for the novelty factor. Where else do you get to look a server in the eye and order goulash. I'm not sure what you think of when you hear the word "goulash", but the Austrian version, likely borrowed from Hungary, was a thick stew like dish, heavy on paprika and sweet onion flavour. After trying it in Austria and loving it, we also found it on a menu in Munich and couldn't resist.

On our honeymoon, we would too often eat breakfast, first lunch, second lunch, first dinner and sometimes second dinner. The picture above of the massive platters of goulash with spaetzle was a second dinner - perhaps the reason you can see some sweat on Dave's brow. I think the key to getting this one right at home is to find good hungarian sweet paprika and to caramelize the onions. 

This recipe is not for those of you who only want to spend a half hour in the kitchen. Although it's not difficult, it does take a fair amount of time. I personally love a recipe for the winter that warms the home and requires a watchful eye for a few hours - wonderful for a Saturday or Sunday at home when you have don't need to be anywhere. This is very similar in flavour and concept to the recipe I recently posted for Braised Bison Short Ribs - but these cold snowy days aren't going to continue forever and as soon as the BBQ comes out, I won't be braising a thing for a good 5 or 6 months. 

To be true to Bavaria, goulash must be served with spaetzle. I've made it from scartch before, but if I can get my hands on the Nature's Farm Country Style Fresh Spaetzle made from their awesome free run eggs, there's no point in toiling away. I buy it and freeze it to have on hand. You could also serve this with egg noodles, or really anything that will sop up the sweet sauce. For the spaetzle, I just quickly fried it in some browned butter. A side of simple radish salad added a nice freshness to this otherwise heavy meal.

Austrian Goulash
Serves 5-6

olive oil
2-3 pounds beef stew meat, cut into bite size chunks
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
3 medium onions or 2 large, sliced
1 tablespoon brown sugar (white would be fine)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons hungarian sweet paprika
1/2 tablespoon caraway seeds
1/2 tablespoon dried marjoram
3 tablespoons tomato paste
900 ml (1 box or about 4 cups) chicken broth
2 dried bay leaves

Coat bottom of a dutch oven or a heavy bottom large pot with olive oil, heat on stove over medium high heat until just smoking. Ensure beef is cut into manageable chunks, pat dry with a paper towel and generously sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the beef with flour. 

Work in batches and use tongs to sear chunks of beef on at least two sides. Do not crowd pan. It should take only 1 minute per side to brown meat, once you place in pot, do not shuffle or stir around, pieces are ready to flip when they easily release from the bottom of the pot. Turn down heat if bottom of pot is turning too black, but make sure meat still sizzles when added. Add a bit more olive oil between batches if needed. Note: I normally don't use flour when searing beef but doing so here helps to thicken the sauce later. 

Once all meat is seared, reserve it on a plate to the side. Turn down heat to low, let pot cool a bit, add a nob of butter. Add sliced onions to pan. Use tongs to rough up onions, scrapping along the bottom of the pot to release all the seared beef flavour. 

Instead of searing on high, you now want to caramelize the onions over low heat. Add the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Cook on low for approximately a half hour, stirring occasionally, turning down heat as you go to ensure onions don't fry. 

Add garlic, paprika, caraway seeds and marjoram. Cook, stirring often, for a few minutes until fragrant. Add tomato paste, chicken broth, bay leaves, and seared beef back into the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat then turn down to lowest heat setting. Cover, and simmer for about 2 hours, stirring and checking occasionally. I like to remove from heat to thicken and cool, at least 20 minutes before serving. 

The beef will be fork tender. Serve over spaetzle. I was tempted to serve this with beer or a german white - but am glad to have had a bottle of Pinot Noir. The goulash has a sweetness to it, but because it's so classically beefy, the jammy berry, mineral flavour of this Picnic Pinot from Two Paddocks in New Zealand was great with it. I bought this bottle from La Boutique del Vino. For my 30th birthday we did a wine tasting there with friends, the theme being "Wines for your 30s" - this was my fav of the six wines we tasted. At $30 dollars a bottle it's still not going to be my go to weekday wine - but I certainly am starting to appreciate the difference between this and a $12 bottle. 

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