Hungarian goulash is the ultimate stick-to-your-bones comfort food. Beef chuck simmered with onions and tomatoes until tender and mixed with sour cream for an ultra-creamy and rich stew you can serve over noodles, potatoes, or spaetzle.
Now that we’ve reached comfort food season, I’m so excited to share this goulash recipe with you.
If your standard comfort food rotation is starting to feel a little stale, please, please, please try making Hungarian goulash this weekend. The flavors in this stew feel interesting and fresh, but utterly satisfying and warming.
It makes excellent leftovers and freezes exceptionally well, so even if you’re cooking for one or two, just make a full batch and freeze the extras for later. You’ll be so glad you did.
What is Hungarian goulash?
Hungarian goulash is a simple beef stew spiced with paprika and made by simmering together beef, onions, and sometimes tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers.
Its roots can be traced back to 9th century Hungarian herdsmen, but the stew as we know it today was developed in the late 18th century when people began adding dried and crushed red peppers (paprika).
It was brought to the US in the mid 1800’s by Hungarian immigrants and became so popular that in 1969, it was polled as one of the 5 most popular meat dishes in the United States.
- Chuck roast: Chuck is the perfect cut of beef for stews like this because the low and slow cooking time makes it incredibly tender. If you don’t want to trim a roast yourself, you can use 1 ½ to 2 pounds of boneless beef short ribs, which are the same cut of meat but have already been trimmed (do not use bone-in short ribs).
- Flour: From what I understand, flour is not a traditional ingredient in Hungarian goulash, but it helps thicken the stew, so I recommend using it.
- Butter and onions: The onions are cooked in butter and then simmered along with the beef. By the time the dish is done, they all but melt into the stew.
- Sweet Hungarian paprika: You’ll get the best classic goulash flavor using sweet Hungarian paprika. Regular paprika has a much less robust flavor but can be used in a pinch.
- Caraway seeds: Caraway seeds have a pungent, almost citrusy flavor. They are a classic goulash ingredient but you can omit them if you’re not a fan of their flavor in savory dishes.
- Beef broth: Using beef broth instead of water as our cooking liquid adds a ton of beefy flavor to the dish.
- Crushed or diced tomatoes: A can of tomatoes adds just the right amount of acidity to the stew without making it taste strongly of tomatoes.
- Lemon juice: A little lemon juice stirred in at the end brightens up the stew. Bottled lemon juice works just fine here.
- Sour cream: Full-fat sour cream makes this dish incredibly rich and creamy. That being said, if you prefer your goulash without it, you can omit the sour cream.
A Note on Caraway Seeds: Caraway seeds are quite large, and some people find their texture in foods unpleasant. You can use them whole, but I recommend crushing them with a mortar and pestle or using a sharp knife to roughly chop them. The knife method is a little messy but works just fine with a little patience.
How to Make Hungarian Goulash
1. Trim your chuck roast of fat and silver skin (the thin, silvery membrane that sticks tightly to the meat) and cut it into small chunks. This will probably take longer than you expect, so give yourself plenty of prep time. Toss the beef with flour and set aside.
2. In a large Dutch oven or pot melt the butter and add onions. Let them cook for 10 minutes, until wilted, before adding the spices. Toasting the spices before adding in the rest of the ingredients will help bring out as much of their flavor as possible.
3. Add the beef to the pan and toss to coat, before adding the broth and tomatoes. Make sure to scrape the bottom of the pot to dislodge any cooked on bits so they don’t burn during the long simmer ahead.
4. Cook the goulash until the meat is tender, about 2 to 2 ½ hours before stirring in the lemon juice.
5. Temper the sour cream before adding it into the goulash by stirring small ladlefuls of the hot cooking liquid into the cream one at a time until the cream is warm to the touch.
6. Stir the warm sour cream into the stew and add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Serve over noodles, potatoes, or spaetzle, and enjoy!
A Note on Tempering Sour Cream: Tempering the sour cream raises its temperature so that you’re not adding cold cream to a simmering liquid. Using cold sour cream can cause it to break when in hits the sauce and look lumpy. The tempering step is optional, but creates a more aesthetically pleasing stew.
What is the difference between American and Hungarian goulash?
American goulash has evolved to be somewhat distinct from the original Hungarian version. Where Hungarian goulash uses chunks of beef and is flavored primarily with paprika, American goulash typically uses ground beef and adds Italian spices, more tomatoes, and other flavorings like soy sauce. American goulash also almost always uses macaroni and is often sprinkled with cheese.
Can you freeze goulash?
Yes! Goulash freezes extremely well (do not freeze pasta or potatoes with the goulash). Freeze all together or in individual portions in freezer bags and defrost in the refrigerator.
You can reheat defrosted goulash very gently over medium heat on the stove or in the microwave.
How to store goulash?
Store goulash in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days. If storing with pasta, make sure to mix in the pasta well before storing so it doesn’t dry out.
What to serve with Hungarian beef goulash?
Serve the goulash over egg noodles, potatoes (boiled, mashed, or baked all work), or spaetzle.
Since this dish is so rich, serve it alongside simple veggie sides like roasted broccoli or asparagus.
More Comfort Food Favorites
Easy Hungarian Goulash
- Large pot or Dutch oven with a lid
- 2 to 3 pound beef chuck roast trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch chunks*
- ¼ cup (30g) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon (14g) butter salted or unsalted is fine
- 2 large yellow or white onions halved and thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt divided, plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
- ½ teaspoon caraway seeds crushed or chopped, optional*
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1 14.5-ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice fresh or bottled is fine
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 cup (240g) sour cream
- Egg noodles, potatoes (boiled, mashed, or baked all work), or spaetzle
- In a large bowl, toss beef with flour until well-coated. Set aside.
- Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add butter. Once butter is melted, add onions and ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. If the onions begin to brown, turn the heat down.
- Add paprika and caraway seeds and cook for 1 minute more.
- Add beef to the pot and cook, stirring often, for 2 minutes.
- Slowly pour in the broth, scraping the bottom of the pot with your spoon as you go to dislodge any cooked-on bits.
- Add tomatoes and remaining ¾ teaspoon of salt and bring to a low simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally and adjusting the temperature as needed, for 2 to 2½ hours, until meat is tender.
Temper Sour Cream
- Measure sour cream out into a medium bowl. Ladle about ¼ cup of cooking liquid into the sour cream and whisk until well-combined. Repeat this process until sour cream is very warm to the touch.
- Pour sour cream mixture into the pot and stir to combine. Add lemon juice, pepper, and more salt to taste.
- Serve over egg noodles, potatoes, or spaetzle, and enjoy!
Recipe Adapted From: The New York Times Magazine
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