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Kip of the Week: Pörkölt. February 17, 2009

Posted by panterazero in herbs & spices, Kip of the Week, red meat.
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Ah, Hungarian cooking. Especially Hungarian national dishes!… oh, wait, everything out of a Hungarian kitchen is a national dish. But I’m speaking here specifically of the world-renowned meat dishes of the Hungarian prairie — gulyás (goulash) and gulyásleves (goulash soup, which is not goulash, but is still good,) pörkölt (which has never been translated into English because everybody in an English-speaking country thinks all Hungarian stew is goulash), and finally paprikas (“paprikash”) which is what you make when you don’t want your stew to have water in it. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

There are articles, there are books, and for all I know there are fistfights, about the precise distinctions among these dishes. However, they all depend on one of Central Europe’s most robust culinary armatures — red meat, onions, paprika, potatoes or pasta, and some sort of stock. Confronting this, one can only say “How could I go wrong?” And, really, you can’t; but a little extra attention to technique makes for an entirely superior result.

Some day I’ll develop a goulash recipe, but I just don’t have time today to write that book. So let’s concentrate on (very) good (very) old pörkölt, which is really the wellspring of almost all Hungarian stews.

three pounds of stew beef, or a three-pound boneless chuck roast, or a three-pound boneless cross-rib roast
three pounds yellow onions (say, four to five medium)
one tablespoon oil
two Anaheim peppers
two cloves of garlic
three tablespoons sweet or hot paprika
OR
two tablespoons paprika and one tablespoon Santa Fe or Chimayo chile powder
OR
either of the above plus red flake pepper to taste
two teaspoons Bell’s poultry seasoning
one teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
one-half teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed
one teaspoon salt
one-half teaspoon ground black pepper
water or stock, as given

If you’re working with the chuck roast or cross-rib roast, cut it into nice bite-size pieces. Also skin and chop the onions, so as to have them ready.

Warm up a large sauté pan or metal casserole, and put the oil in it. Cover the entire bottom of the pan with a single even layer of beef pieces, so that there are no gaps. (You may have to do this in two batches.) Turn the heat to medium or medium-high.

As the beef cooks, juices will bubble up in the gaps between the pieces. So long as this is happening, the pan needs only occasional attention. Once the bubbling stops, though, watch the pan like a hawk, because you want all the juices to dry out and brown nicely, but not scorch! Just when the pan juices are the right shade of brown, the beef pieces will unstick from the pan, so take them out with a spatula and set them aside. IMMEDIATELY add the onions, along with a little more oil if the pan is very dry, and stir until the onions start to shed water and dissolve and pick up the dried pan juices. Here you can lower the heat a bit and cut back to stirring occasionally, so top, seed and chop the Anaheim peppers and crush the garlic.

When the onions are a uniform, appetizing brown, add the chopped peppers, crushed garlic, paprika, Bell’s seasoning, thyme, marjoram, salt and pepper, and stir until everything is nicely mixed.

Put the onions, spices and herbs in the bottom of the casserole, then put the meat on top, and add stock or boiling water JUST to cover everything. Keep on a high simmer on the stove, or in a 275° oven, for… oh, an hour to 90 minutes, tasting occasionally to make sure that the beef is tender but not flaky. Serve with noodles or boiled potatoes, and I highly recommend boiled carrots or steamed cabbage as a vegetable side.

© /KC February 2009

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