In researching goulash, I came to appreciate that this dish is like chili–not in terms of flavors, but in terms of the heated arguments about how no matter what you’re approach, whatever you’re doing is not authentic and is simply wrong. So since I was clearly doomed to fail from the get go, I figured I might as well take some liberties with it anyways, right? However it’s made though, this stew is just the thing to warm your bones this winter.
Purists would argue that goulash is not a place for tomatoes or peppers and that all such flavor should come from the paprika (since if you didn’t know, unlike most others, this dish is very much about the paprika). I avoided the former but not so much the latter–I enjoy eating peppers more than I enjoy the approval of purists. I also furthered my love of squash by including some butternut squash in the stew. Then there’s the argument over what to add for extra body–whether this stew should be served with potatoes or pasta, and if the latter, is it egg noodles or verimicelli (guess what I chose)?
These nuances aside, the stew is still very much about the lamb and paprika, deriving a tremendous amount of flavor from these two fundamentals. The gaminess of the lamb is also nicely accented by the sweet anise flavor from the caraway seeds and the end result has a surprisingly well-rounded flavor proile (I say surprising because the list of ingredients is actually quite simple when you read through it). Also, I have to point you to the two delicious renditions that inspired me to try goulash (and I hope now you’ll try it, too!).
- 5 slices bacon
- 3 lbs lamb shank (I included the bones for flavor and the marrow)
- 3 onion (I had 2 and 1 shallot–shh, my wife wasn’t home!)
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- 2 red bell peppers
- 1 poblano pepper
- 1 anaheim pepper
- 1 dried new mexico chili
- 6 garlic cloves
- 3 Tbsp paprika (mostly hungarian sweet, some smoked, some spicy)
- 2 tsp caraway seeds
- 1/3 cup flour
- 2-3 cups beef stock
- handful fresh thyme
- 1/2 butternut squash
- 1 lb vermicelli
Begin by preparing the veggies and meat. Finely dice the onion, carrot, celery, peppers, and garlic. Also debone the lamb and chop the meat up into 1/2-1 inch cubes. Hang on to the bones for extra flavor!
In a dutch oven, cook the bacon and then set it aside. Now season the lamb meat chunks all over with salt and pepper before browning in the bacon grease for 2-3 minutes per side. Work in batches so that you’re not tempted to overcrowd the meat. Brown the bones as well.
Set the browned meat aside for now and sauté the onion, carrot, celery, and peppers in the grease that remains. After about 8 minutes, add the garlic and sauté for a minute more.
Finally, make a well out of the vegetables so you can see the bottom of your pot and add the paprika Into the oil along with the caraway seeds.
Let this sit or a minute before adding in the flour. Let that cook for a moment before stirring it to thicken things up. Then, pour in the stock and whisk it well to incorporate the flour. Add thyme and raise this mixture to a boil.
Return the meat, bones, and bacon crumbles to the pan and let this return to a boil. Cover the pot and transfer to a 350°F oven for about 40 minutes.
While you wait, cube half of a butternut squash. When time is up, scrape the marrow out of the bones and into the stew (you won’t get it all–just do your best), mixing well. Then, add the squash. Stir and cover again, cooking for 20-30 minutes further in the oven (if you think the sauce looks too thin for your liking though, cook uncovered).
While you wait for the stew to finish, all that remains is the vermicelli. Boil that in water per package directions and drain off the water. When the stew is done cooking, skim off any fat on the surface before tossing in the pasta. Mix well and enjoy!