Pörkölt (Beef Stew)
A very long time ago, around the time I started this blog, I posted a recipe for “csirkepörkölt nokedlivel”, or “chicken stew with egg noodles”. Basically, the recipe was wrong; that wasn’t real pörkölt.
It turns out that what my mother called “pörkölt” was actually csirkepaprikás, “chicken paprikash” but without the addition of sour cream. Which was funny, because we always topped that dish with sour cream anyway… it felt right.
The reason for this confusion (and also why my mother is delusional and still tries to argue that paprikash and pörkölt are the same dish) was because apparently my grandfather hated sour cream, so my grandmother always made chicken paprikash without it. And so, when the recipe passed on to my mother, she grew up thinking it was paprikash and that paprikash was just another word for pörkölt… Thankfully nowadays there’s internet, so I was able to figure out the truth, eventually. Based on all the research I’ve done, here’s a graph I made to mark the distinctions between “The Big Three” dishes of Hungarian cuisine:
So is paprikash pretty much the same as pörkölt but with chicken and with sour cream stirred in? No, absolutely not. Pörkölt uses boneless meat, paprikash uses boned chicken; whether it’s drumsticks, legs, or whole chicken. Pörkölt also includes some vegetables, like bell peppers and tomatoes. It’s actually pretty funny to think about… My mother always made what she called pörkölt with whole chicken, no vegetables, and besides separating the limbs she never even cut the chicken. And since it was all soupy it was always a real pain in the ass trying to get the meat off the bone without getting your hands dirty while my mother, on the other end of the table, happily dug into the liquidy chicken with her hands and was more than happy to get dirty as she chowed down on the bones. I always hated it, and always pleaded to her that she take the damn meat off the bones before serving it. I even had another Hungarian friend of mine’s mother’s pörkölt without dem bones, and it was so much better! But my mother always maintained “Hahaha, hat ez mar nem lesz olyan finom. (¬‿¬)” (“Hahaha, now that won’t taste as good.”) Well, yeah, because you got the dish all wrong; you’re making a chicken stew with whole chicken. That’s not a stew, that’s paprikash without sour cream!!!! And we put sour cream on it anyway so what’s the point?!!!! (She was right though; if you make chicken paprikash with boneless skinless chicken, it doesn’t taste very good at all.)
You see, when one person in a Hungarian family is born with a disability that makes them dislike sour cream, it ruins that family for generations to come… Good thing I was born then, ’cause I’m here to save the family! ＼(^ω^＼)
We haven’t done real paprikash yet, so I’ll probably delete the old recipe for what I thought was chicken pörkölt… We’ll do real chicken paprikash soon, I promise. And when I say we, I’m not just referring to myself and my family, I’m also referring to whomever reads this blog… Whomever you may be. ( ^_^)／
So now, we’re going to be doing real beef stew, known as pörkölt in Hungary. In North America, you’ll probably be told that goulash is a beef stew. It’s not. It’s a god damn soup.
This is Hungarian beef stew, served with egg noodles, potatoes, or pasta. Sour cream has no place in this recipe. As a topping? Well, that’s up to you. (´･ω･`) (It ain’t traditional though).
Ingredients (Serves 4)
500g beef or veal chuck*
2 garlic cloves
1 bell pepper
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp oil, or lard**
2 cups chicken stock or water***
1 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika****
1 tsp marjoram
(Optional) 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar*****
For the nokedli (makes 4 servings of nokedli, 800g total)
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup water (to start, add up to another 1/4 cup if needed)
1/2 tsp salt
1. Dice onion, tomato, and bell pepper. Mince garlic. Cut beef chuck up into rustic 1-inch fork-sized pieces and season all the pieces generously with salt and pepper. (You don’t really need to worry about precision cuts for any of the ingredients in this dish, just make sure they’re all chopped up and ready to throw in.)
2. Heat oil or lard in a large saucepan on medium heat. Toss in your onions, and cook them with a pinch of salt until they soften up. About 3 minutes.
3. Remove saucepan from heat, and stir in your paprika with the onions and oil (this is the part of the dish that Hungarians refer to as the “Heart & Soul” of pörkölt; stirring in paprika off the heat to oily onions. Um, okay. Don’t question; just do it.******)
4. Once the onions have fully been coated with the paprika, put the saucepan back on the heat, turn it up to medium-high, and throw in your beef. Cook until all the meat has browned and seared on the outside.
5. Once meat is all browned, throw in your tomatoes, bell pepper and garlic, then pour on your chicken stock or water until it just covers the beef, should be 2 cups if you’re using 500g of meat.
6. Add any other spices you’d like to add at this point. I like to use marjoram and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and you could probably fit a bay leaf in there but I’ve never tried it myself.
7. Stir in your tomato paste, adjust seasoning (especially salt), bring the liquid up to a boil, then reduce to minimum and cover with a lid, leaving slightly uncovered and simmer until the meat is fork tender. Should take about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
You should start making the nokedli at this point. You will need a nokedli maker. If you don’t have one, just serve the meat with egg noodles or rice, or even bread.
8. Whisk together 3/4 cup water*******, salt, and eggs in a mixing bowl.
9. Slowly add in the flour, whisking until there are no lumps left.
10. Slowly whisk in more water if necessary, a small splash at a time. It should be much thicker than crêpe batter, but not as thick as bread dough.
11. Bring salted water in a large saucepan to a boil and add the mixture to the pan through a nokedli-maker.
12. Scoop nokedli out of the water in batches and add them to a strainer, pouring cold water over them immediately to cool them down and stop them from over-cooking.
13. Drain and wait for them to dry.
14. Once meat is fork tender, turn up the heat to medium and cook uncovered stirring occasionally until sauce reduces to a thick gravy-like consistency, or just reduce to personal preference. Should be about 10-15 minutes. Some people like their pörkölt thicker than others. In the words of Chef John, “You are the boss of your sauce!” (´･ω･`)
15. Remove from heat, and serve with your nokedli egg-noodles. Garnish with whatever you’d like! Mix the gravy in with the egg noodles and enjoy!
*Do not buy stew meat; get a slab of beef chuck and cut it yourself. Also, you don’t really need to trim off the fat besides those really big chunks of white on the side. No fat, no flavour. Remember that! (￣▽￣)ノ
**As always, I recommend peanut oil or nonhydrogenated lard (meaning lard you made yourself by rendering pig fat from a pork roast, not the big block of lard you got at the baking section of the grocery store. In Hungary they use sunflower oil, but I personally don’t like it very much. You can though if you want, as long as it’s not canola oil or “vegetable” oil. Another thing; this may seem like a lot of oil, but remember; you’re serving 4 people, and unless you lick the gravy out from the saucepan, you probably won’t be consuming all of it anyway! So don’t be afraid to add more if your meat or onions look too dry.
***Chicken stock just adds flavour and isn’t absolutely necessary. In Hungary they use water, but in France and in my kitchen, we never use water for anything that we could use stock for.
****Sweet, as in not Spanish smoked paprika. The regular paprika labelled “Hungarian paprika” or just “paprika” is what you’re looking for.
*****Not a traditional Hungarian ingredient, neither in pörkölt nor any Hungarian dish. This is my own addition because I like the flavour it adds.
******This is done off the heat because paprika tends to burn, especially when it’s dry. As for why it’s the “Heart & Soul” of pörkölt, that’s just something Hungarians say to make their cooking sound pretentious. I can’t think of any other reason.
*******When making nokedli, you always want to start off with 3/4 cups of water to 2 cups of flour, and only add more if the dough is too heavy to work with. Denser nokedli has a much better texture, but if it’s too dense it won’t go through the nokedli-maker properly, so adjust only if you need to.
(porkolt, poerkoelt, marha, marhaporkolt, marhapörkölt)