Goulash is a stew that is traditionally made in Hungary, where it is called gulyás. A stew is basically two foods simmered together in a liquid, and in Hungarian goulash the stew is made from meat and vegetables and seasoned with paprika. It is a very common meal in many parts of Europe, and considered a national dish in Hungary and a symbol for that country.
It first originated in the 9th century, when the meat and combination with various vegetables was flavored and cooked on slow fires, and then the stew so prepared was dried in the sun. This was then packed into bags that were made out of the stomachs of sheep and carried by the shepherds when they took their animals out for grazing in the mountains and countryside. When then needed to stop for a meal, a fire was prepared with wood and twigs from the surroundings, water was added to this dried goulash, and heated to make a meal. In Hungarian, the word ‘gulya’ meant these who tended herds, and it is to these herdsmen that the credit goes for cooking the first Hungarian goulash. As meat was scarce, the herdsmen made use of every part of the animals, even the skin that protected hooves.
Hungarian goulash can be prepared from any meat, and cuts form the shank, shin and shoulder are preferred as these parts have well exercised muscles that are collagen rich. This collagen gets converted to gelatin during the cooking process. The meat that is used is cut in chunks, and then browned in lard or oil with onions. Stock or water is added along with paprika and the resulting stew simmered. Once the meat has cooked to some extent, vegetables can be added, along with ginger and caraway seed. Spices and herbs can be added as per individual recipes, and often, the use is made of diced potatoes to add starch to the goulash and to thicken it. Some variations of goulash add wine or vinegar. Small pinch sized bits of egg noodles are added to the boiling goulash to give it substance.
There are many variations in Hungarian goulash, and while none of them claim any special standing, families do add variations in their daily cooking of goulash to add to the variety of their meals. Potatoes can be omitted, and sauerkraut and sour cream added instead. Sauerkraut is chopped and pickled cabbage, a dish that originated in Germany. Vegetables can be added in the goulash instead of the egg noodles. Beef bones and vegetables are added in some goulashes instead of meat to make a form of fake goulash. Kidney beans can be used as a substitute for potatoes. Smoked beef or smoked pork can be used instead of meat. Thin vermicelli added to the goulash makes or an interesting variation. Mutton goulash is anther well liked goulash that has red wine added to it for flavor.
Goulash is often eaten with bread to make a complete and thoroughly satisfying meal. Garlic bread is often favored to give the meal an extra tang. Breadsticks and dinner rolls can be dipped into the goulash and eaten. Goulash is by itself a very heavy dish, and traditionally does not require any side dish to make it a complete meal. Some people add green salads or fruit salads to give variety to the heaviness of this Hungarian stew. You can always add roasted vegetables or even roasted asparagus to add variety to your goulash meal.
Goulash is a meal that can be prepared ahead of time, as when it sits for some time the flavors intensify and come together. The addition of slow cooking kitchen pots that can be even switched on remotely, has made it even easier to cook goulash after adding all the ingredients into the pots and allowing them to simmer for hours, and remain warm when it is time for your meal. American goulash makes use of ground beef or cubed steak as the meat, tomatoes in some form and often elbow macaroni and often cheese.
It is the original Hungarian goulash or kettle goulash that is made by frying mutton or beef pieces with onions in lard, adding tomatoes, green peppers, potatoes, garlic and caraway seeds that will never lose its popularity and unique taste.