For reasons quite unknown to me, I have a great affinity for cooking seasonal foods very much out of season. The glowing July sun can be roasting every one of us poor Mississippians and I will inevitably decide that it’s a good night for stick to your ribs beef stew or that everyone needs to break a sweat leaning over the steaming nabe for a shabu shabu feast. I like to imagine that it’s wishful thinking and by preparing wintery foods that the heat will soon disappear and a bone chilling wind will takes its place. Fortunately, when it comes to summer foods in winter my good sense typically prevails as there are few things as insipid as a winter tomato. However, with February drawing to a close and one last good week of tweedy weather in the forecast, I decided that it was time to cook seasonally for a change and began looking for soups and stews.
Although my bookshelves are beginning to groan under the weight of my cookbook collection, I don’t have many books that are dedicated to soups. While there are soup recipes dotting many tables of contents, I haven’t had that much success in finding truly satisfactory soup cookbooks. David Ansel’s The Soup Peddler’s Slow & Difficult Soups is a potential exception. After finding the title in an old Chowhound thread, I bought a copy and have enjoyed pretty favorable responses to his recipe for Chao Tom but for this weekend, I skipped the shrimp and fish sauce and went straight for the Hungarian Goulash.
While combing the pantry and spice drawers for the necessary ingredients, I couldn’t remember ever eating goulash, or at the very least one with a distinct caraway seed flavor. Mulling that over, it didn’t take long to prepare the mise-en-place and soon I was ready to begin.
-1 ½ pounds chuck cut into 1 inch cubes (Ansel calls for stew meat but I try to stay away from mystery meat packages)
-1/4 cup ap flour
-3 tbs vegetable oil
-3 tbs sweet paprika
-2 onions sliced lengthwise into quarter moons
-3 tsp dried marjoram
-8 cups water
-6 oz can tomato paste
-3 potatoes diced
-1 ½ tsp caraway seed
-egg noodles for serving
Fortunate for timing and unfortunate for pictures, I took Ansel’s advice and used a pressure cooker for this recipe. That aside, it’s a fairly straightforward recipe.
1. Coat the beef in the flour, heat the oil over medium-high heat and sauté the beef for roughly 10 minutes
2. Scrape the fond to ensure that it doesn’t burn and then sprinkle the paprika over the meat. Sauté the meat and paprika for roughly five minutes and be sure to add extra oil if the meat begins to stick.
3. Add the onions, two teaspoons of marjoram, stir and add water to cover.
4. Stir in the tomato paste. I found this more difficult than it should have been. My advice is to fill a small bowl with the goulash liquid, add the tomato paste, and stir until dissolved. Without that step, I spent far too long making sure the tomato paste was incorporated and not forming a clump at the bottom of the pot.
5. At this point you can either bring things to a simmer, cover and simmer for an hour or do what I did and put the pressure cooker lid on, bring to pressure and have a drink for the next 20-25 minutes.
6. Release the pressure completely, remove the lid, add the potatoes, remaining marjoram, caraway and the rest of the water. Bring everything to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a sharp knife.
7. Season to taste with salt, simmer and serve over egg noodles.
Just how did this first batch of goulash turn out?
The answer is a little spicier than I expected.
Scrounging through my spices, I found that I didn’t have enough sweet paprika to cover the recipe requirements. Not wanting to miss the chili flavor, I used Spanish smoked to fill out the three tablespoons. That decision made a very forward flavor that went straight to my nose.
Although I enjoyed the tender beef, paprika spice, and the unmistakable flavor of caraway, I was surprised at the watery consistency of the stew. While I would have preferred a thicker result, it was still a peppery and meaty remedy for the February cold. As for Ansel’s book, the stories of his Austin neighborhood alone make the book worth buying but I’m not 100% satisfied with his recipes so far. However with only goulash and chao tom under my belt, I still have more than 30 slow and difficult recipes to go. I’ll need to try a few more before this can become my go to soup book