For the past while, I’ve been working on an ebook, A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve been frustrated, and now I’m so excited to share it with you! It’s part cookbook, part travelogue, with cultural stories, delicious recipes, and info about traditional cooking methods – like why bone broth is so amazing.
You can check out the book here – A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stews
Here’s a teaser – one recipe and part of the story for making goulash.
Strictly speaking, goulash is not Slovak but Hungarian. Slovaks know a good dish when they taste it, however, and this stew is a staple here in Slovakia.
When hosting a large gathering, goulash and kapustnica (sauerkraut soup) are the go-to Slovak meals, much like chili or beef stew in North America.
This recipe is from my husband, goulash cook extraordinaire. Since I was accustomed to his goulash genius, I was under the impression that making goulash was fairly fool-proof; I thought that all goulash was good goulash. This is not the case. No. After sampling several underwhelming versions, I realized just how amazing his goulash recipe really is, and my opinion is shared by many.
Slovak friends who recently visited said it was the best goulash they had ever tasted, and Slovaks are not prone to exaggeration. In fact, his recipe is so popular that friends and family have called him to come make goulash for their celebrations, sometimes for 100+ people. His amazing recipe is a great way to get an invitation to a party.
My family looks forward to him making goulash when we visit Canada. We brought it to a family reunion this summer, and someone just asked me for the recipe nine months later, it’s that memorable.
My favourite method of cooking goulash is outside in a kotlik – a cauldron – over a wood fire. There are a few different kinds of kotlik— some sit in barrels with a fire underneath, others hang or sit on a tripod over an open fire.
A homemade kotlik made from a beer keg.
Goulash cooking contests are held regularly throughout Slovakia. Our town often sees a few a year, hosted by the town, an organization, or a business. The contestants are most often men, much like the tradition of barbecuing. I’ve shared about goulash contests before, like the one in summer heat and the one with one of my favourite photos.
There are many variations of goulash. The meat varies between pork, beef, wild boar, and venison, or a mix. While pork is cheaper than beef, beef brings more flavour to the dish; boar and venison goulashes are convenient for anyone with connections to a hunter. I’ve even seen goulash made with tripe. Spices also offer many possibilities. Goulash made with game can be flavoured with juniper berries. Wine, dry mushrooms, prunes, allspice— the possibilities are virtually limitless.
The consistent ingredients are lots of caramelized onion, meat, and a hefty measure of paprika along with tomatoes and peppers which can be fresh,or lečo— a canned mix of peppers and tomatoes.
It was incredibly difficult for me to get the measurements for this acclaimed recipe since my husband eyeballs all the ingredient amounts as he cooks. In order to share this secret recipe with you, I finally stood behind him as he cooked, thrusting a tablespoon or teaspoon under the flow of spices to calculate the measurements as he sprinkled them in.
All so I could share this recipe with you!
Best Ever Goulash
My husband gets called to make goulash when friends have a party, because they know who makes the best goulash aroun.
- 4 tbsp /40g lard
- 1 lb /500g onion
- 2 lbs /1kg stewing meat see below
- 1 tbsp salt
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp ground caraway
- 4 tbsp paprika
- 2-3 quarts / litres broth
- 6 bay leaves
- 14 oz /400g peppers any colour
- 14 oz /400g tomatoes 3-4
- 1/2 cup /60g flour or 3 tbsp cornstarch, potato starch, or 4 potatoes
- 1 tsp marjoram
- spicy pepper optional
Peel and chop onions roughly. Melt lard or other oil in a 6 litre/quart pot on low heat and caramelize onions, at least 20-30 minutes, the longer the better.
Meanwhile, cut stewing meat. I cut them smaller for little people, my husband cuts large chunks. The size doesn't matter as long as they are relatively uniform.
Add meat to onions and slowly stir, until meat is browned.
Add salt, garlic, black pepper, and caraway, and let it cook about 3 minutes.
Stir in paprika, stir for about a minute, and pour in enough broth to cover the meat. Cover and let simmer, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, cut pepper. If you really want superior goulash, you can blanch and peel the tomatoes before cutting them. It is not necessary, but it makes for a smoother stew.
Add peppers and tomatoes to the meat with enough broth to fill to 4 quarts/litres. Cover and let simmer, stirring occasionally. If you like spicy food, you can add any spicy pepper according to taste. If you are using potato to thicken, grate and put it in now.
Mix flour (or gluten-free alternatives) with enough water to make a slurry and pour into the goulash, stirring all the while. Simmer. The trick to telling if the flour is cooked, my husband says, is to taste the goulash. If the flour sticks to the roof of your mouth, it still needs to cook.
Stir in marjoram and turn off the heat.
10. Usually served with bread or steamed bread (knedľa).
Note: The meats most commonly used are pork, beef, wild boar, venison, or a mix of them. Pork, boar and venison will need to cook about 1.5-2 hours to be soft, beef at least 3 hours.
Don’t forget to get more great recipes and stories about Slovakia from the book, A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups & Stew