I learned how to make this winner of a stew from our Hungarian friends Robert Pal and his wife, Judit Nyulasi. Pal is an assistant professor and director of restoration at Montana Tech in Butte, and Nyulasi works with Pal and also is a language instructor. Both are terrific, instinctive cooks, and the best way I’ve found to get a recipe from them is to cook together.
This stew’s Hungarian name is Vörösboros Gombás Marhapörkölt. Easy for them to say. The name translates literally as red wine mushroom beef stew. Typical of Hungarian stews there’s a lot of paprika, onions, garlic and various other yummy seasonings. The word goulash kind of encompasses what this stew is all about.
My main take away from cooking with them was the proper time to add paprika to the pot. They said it really was important to add the spice when the pot is warm, not hot. Too much heat will make the paprika bitter. And from me they learned how convenient it is to cook the stew in the oven instead of having to mother it on the stovetop.
When it comes right down to it, stews really are informal. You brown some meat, cook some onions, add spices, vegetables, wine and seasonings, and cook awhile until the meat is tender. For freshness, you toss in more fresh veggies, garlic and mushrooms near the end of cooking. And that’s it.
If you’re a hunter, substitute game for the beef. To shorten a stew’s cooking time, cut whatever meat you use into smallish pieces, say 1-inch or so.
Serve this stew with spaetzle (see recipe) or egg noodles.
Hungarian Beef Stew (Vörösboros Gomba’s Marhapörkölt)
The recipe says to use cremini mushrooms. These small brown-capped fungi are baby Portobello mushrooms. If you can’t find them, use the common white button mushroom. This stew is most often served with spaetzle, a homemade egg noodle common in Germany, Hungary, Austria, Switzerland and some other areas in Europe. Its name translates as “little sparrows” (Swabian diminutive plural of Spatz). That recipe follows.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 pounds fully trimmed rump roast
Vegetable oil, such as peanut, safflower or grapeseed oil
2 medium onions, chopped (about 12 ounces prepared)
3 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped fresh peppers (green bell, sweet red, jalapeño), divided
6 garlic cloves, put through a garlic press or very finely chopped, divided
3 bay leaves
1 cup dry red wine
3 cups water
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
Garnish ingredients: Sliced fresh sweet peppers, parsley sprigs, sour cream (1 or more cups in all)
Cut the meat into 1-inch cubes and pat dry on paper towels. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over medium to medium-high heat. When hot, add about half the meat, spacing the pieces so they’re not touching. Wait a minute or two before stirring so the meat develops a crust. With a wooden spatula, stir the meat and cook until all sides are browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set the pieces on a plate. If needed, add more oil to the pot. Cook the remaining meat in the same way and add to the first batch. Discard the cooking fat. When the pan is cool, wipe it clean with paper towels.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with an oven rack in the lower third position.
Add 4 tablespoons fresh oil to the pot and set it over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and tender, 8 to 10 minutes. It’s OK if the onions brown lightly.
Take the pan off heat and let it cool a minute or two until the onions are warm. Add the paprika and stir well. If you add the paprika to a hot pan it may turn bitter. Still off heat, stir in the browned meat, salt, black pepper, half the fresh peppers, half the garlic, all the bay leaves, wine and water.
Set the pot back on medium heat and bring the contents to a low boil, stirring occasionally. Put on the lid and transfer the pot to the oven. Cook about 1 1/2 hours, until the meat is completely tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp paring knife.
Remove the stew from the oven and set the pot onto a hot pad. Add the mushrooms, remaining garlic and remaining fresh peppers. Stir well and taste the liquid. Adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper. Cover the pot and return to the oven for another 20 minutes or so. Make the spaetzle or cook egg noodles during this time.
Serve the stew with noodles or spaetzle and garnish portions with fresh sliced peppers, parsley and sour cream. Pass more sour cream at the table to stir into the stew.
You’ll need a spaetzle hobel, a device that delivers the spaetzle to a pot of simmering water, or a large-holed colander. I’ve had excellent results using a plastic colander with rectangular openings. Hobels are available online and they are not expensive.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
250 grams all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups flour, 8.8 ounces). Measure by scooping a 1-cup dry measure into your flour container, filling it to overflowing, and sweeping off the excess with a straight edge. For 3/4 cup flour, use a 1/4-cup dry measure three times to measure flour the same way as you did the 1 cup flour.
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, warmed in their shells in a small bowl with hot water
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
Whisk the flour, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Crack the eggs in another bowl and whisk them for about 30 seconds to combine well. Whisk in the milk. Make a well in the dry ingredients (push them to the side of the bowl to make a space for the liquid) and pour in the liquid. Gradually whisk in the flour from the sides to make thick batter. Whisk vigorously until you get a nice rope when you lift the whisk up about a foot and let the batter fall back into the bowl.
Bring 3 to 4 quarts salted water to a boil in a large pot. Reduce the heat so that the water barely simmers. Make the spaetzle with a Hobel (spaetzle maker) or press the batter with a spatula through a large-holed colander held over the simmering water. Cook just a minute or two until spaetzle is tender. Drain well in a colander.
Melt the butter in large skillet over medium heat until lightly browned. Add the drained spaetzle and stir well. Cook just a few more seconds and serve with the stew.