Sweater weather is officially here – let’s get cosy with Goulash! This Hungarian recipe is a slow cooked beef soup or stew that’s boldly flavoured with stacks of paprika which makes the sauce a deep, vibrant red colour. Think traditional beef stew – with extra character!
If you think Hungary and think hearty food, then Goulash is probably exactly what comes to mind. Unsurprising given it is Hungary’s greatest food export!
Is it a stew? Is it a soup? It sort of lies between the two in terms of the amount of broth vs the stuff in it. Though one noticeable thing about traditional Goulash is that the broth is thinner than what you think of with stews, and it’s not thickened with flour or cream. Also, it’s not typically served over mash like stews, it’s served in bowls like soup.
As for flavour, I describe it as a beef stew with a sauce that reminds me of chorizo flavours thanks to a big hit of paprika and savouriness from a good amount of garlic, capsicum (bell peppers) and onion. It’s really, really good. Bolder than typical beef stew!
Note on authenticity: This is a recipe that is intended to respect traditional Hungarian Goulash. But as with all such recipes, every cook and every family has their own version. I am sure some Hungarians will disagree on something I’ve included! Please share your thoughts below but know that I did do my research!
Ingredients in Hungarian Goulash
Two things you’ll observe when you make this:
A LOT of paprika. Flavour and sauce colour!
A LOT of vegetables. 2 each onions, capsicum/bell peppers, carrots, tomato, potatoes. Flavour and heartiness!
Beef, spices and sauce
Beef – The classic beef cut to use is beef chuck which is a tough cut of meat that becomes meltingly tender when slow cooked. If you can, get a single piece so you can cut it into cubes of the size we want, else get a thick steak. Always look for beef that is nicely marbled with fat. All too often, the grocery stores ones are disturbingly lean. We want the fat marbled throughout, it makes the beef so tender and juicy!
Substitute – Beef osso bucco (boneless) and beef cheeks. The meat cubes will twist and buckle more once cooked but these are actually juicier than chuck. Gravy beef and brisket will also work but meat is a little leaner.
Paprika – Use Hungarian or Hungarian-style if you can, the paprika is smoother and sweeter than ordinary paprika. Don’t use hot paprika – we’re using lots of paprika here, it will be way too spicy! Smoked paprika will make the sauce a little too smokey, though you could mix-and-match a little if you want.
Caraway seeds – A traditional spice used in Goulash used in central European cooking. Not the end of the world if you don’t have it but you’ll love the little unique pops of flavour if you do!
Beef stock/broth – The liquid used to make the sauce. Traditionally water was used, but no one can deny that using stock makes the sauce a whole lot tastier! I personally would not make this with water. If you use homemade beef stock, you could sell bowls of this for a pretty penny.
Butter and oil – The fat for sautéing. I like to use both so you get the best of both worlds – butter for flavour, oil for effective searing (butter is ~15% water and susceptible to burning at high heats).
Bay leaf – For flavour. Fresh if you can, or dried (pictured).
We don’t need flour to thicken the sauce – see next paragraph.
Some recipes use flour to thicken the sauce. I don’t find that necessary if you use fresh tomatoes rather than canned tomatoes, as they break down to thicken the sauce. It also makes the stew sauce taste less tomatoey which lets the paprika and other flavours come through more.
Onion and garlic – flavour base.
Capsicum/bell peppers – One each red and yellow if you can, or 2 red. Don’t underestimate the flavour this brings to the sauce! You can substitute the potato and carrot but don’t skip capsicum!
Tomatoes – These break down to naturally thicken the sauce rather than using flour.
Carrot and potato – Vegetable adds ins that fills it out. Feel free to switch with other root vegetables such as celeriac, parsnip, or even non-root vegetables like green beans. Note: These get added at the end of the cook time so the potato doesn’t disintegrate.
Parsley – optional garnish
How to make Goulash
Usually, stews will call for beef cubes to be browned first, removed, then added back into the pot after sautéing the vegetables. Goulash goes all in. I doubted it at first but when I saw it go all stewy and the flavours mingling together before I even got to the slow cooking part, I understood.
And when I tasted the finished dish, it sealed the deal!
Cut beef into nice size chunks then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Cook onion first for 6 minutes until the edges are light golden.
Cook beef – Next, add the beef all in one go and stir until the surfaces changes from red to brown. You won’t be browning on the beef because there’s too much in the pot and that’s just how it’s supposed to be. All the flavours meld and come together in the next steps!
Add garlic, capsicum and tomato. Stir for 3 minutes to coat the vegetables in all the flavour in the pot. The tomato will mostly breakdown – it will break down completing during the slow cooking phase and thicken the sauce.
Spices – Add paprika, caraway and bay leaf. Stir for 30 seconds to coat everything in the tasty flavours.
Simmer – Add beef stock, stir, bring to simmer.
Slow cook – Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1 1/2 hours. At this stage the beef should be pretty tender but not quite “fall-apart”, there’s still another 30 minutes to go. Stir in carrot and potatoes then cook for another 30 minutes. By this time, the potatoes (if you cut them the exact size I specify!!) should be soft and the beef should be “fall-apart”.
Serve – Sprinkle with parsley if you’re feeling fancy then ladle into bowls!
That’s Friday’s cheese bread pictured above, being dunked into the Goulash. Though you could do ordinary crusty Artisan bread. Both are no-knead, no stand-mixer, 3 minute dough making situations. Not mandatory…..but any kind of bread elevates soup-stew eating experiences, right??! – Nagi x
PS One final point – as with any stewy / slow-cooked recipes, Goulash tastes even better the next day. Completely and utterly company-worthy.
Watch how to make it
Goulash (Hungarian beef stew)
- 1 kg/2 lb beef chuck , cut in 3.5cm / 1.5″ cubes (Note 1)
- 1 3/4 tsp cooking salt / kosher salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp/ 30g unsalted butter
- 2 brown onions , cut into 1cm / 1/2″ squares
- 5 garlic cloves , finely minced
- 2 capsicum/bell peppers (1 red + 1 yellow), cut into 2 cm / 0.8″ squares
- 2 tomatoes , cut into 8 wedges then in half
- 1/4 cup Hungarian-style paprika (sub ordinary paprika, Note 2)
- 1 tsp caraway seeds , optional (Note 3)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 litre / 4 cups beef stock/broth , low-sodium
- 2 carrots , peeled, cut in quarters lengthwise then into 1cm / 0.4″ pieces
- 2 potatoes , cut into 1.2cm / 1/2″ cubes
- 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley , optional garnish
- Preheat oven to 180°C/350°F (160°C fan), though you can use your slow cooker or stove instead (oven easiest! Note 4).
- Season beef – Toss the beef with half the salt and pepper.
- Cook onion – Heat the oil and melt the butter in a large oven-proof dutch oven over high heat. Cook onion for 6 minutes until the edges are light golden.
- Cook beef – Add the beef and stir until the outside changes from red to brown, about 2 minutes. It won't go golden brown, it's not supposed to.
- Add vegetables – Add garlic, capsicum and tomato. Stir for 3 minutes – the tomato will mostly breakdown.
- Add paprika, caraway and bay leaf. Stir for 30 seconds.
- Slow cook – Add beef stock, stir, bring to simmer. Cover with a lid and transfer to the oven for 1 1/2 hours.
- Add potato – The beef should be pretty tender but not quite "fall-apart". Stir in carrot and potatoes. Return to oven, covered, for another 30 minutes. Beef should now be "fall-apart" – if not, return to the oven for 10 minutes at a time.
Life of Dozer
Office bathroom. Now doubles as Dozer’s playroom. Staff who walked into this had a good laugh!!