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Hungarian Goulash: Paprika is the Secret

Thicker than a soup but thinner than a stew, Hungarian goulash has become its native country’s most famous culinary export — along with Hungarian paprika, which gives the dish its distinctive warm and fruity pepper flavor.

There are about as many ways to prepare Hungarian gulyás — usually spelled goulash in the Americas — as there are cooks to make it. Even traditionalists vary in their approach, according to the Budapest By Locals blog (budapestbylocals.com):

“(E)very other housewife or chef has her/his own way of cooking it by adding or omitting some of the ingredients, or changing something in the preparation process, however they would all call their gulyás the most authentic.”

And they’d likely all agree: The secret to authentic Hungarian goulash is Hungarian paprika, the freshest-ground you can find.

Think of goulash as Hungary’s equivalent of chili, originally cooked up in an iron pot by cattle herdsmen (gulyás in Hungarian; or what we would call cowboys) for a savory meal on the trail.

Just as you need the right chili powder to make good chili, your choice of paprika makes all the difference in spicing a tasty goulash. Smoked paprika comes on too strong, while Spanish paprika … just isn’t Hungarian.

You can vary most any of the other ingredients at your whim — try using Hungarian sausage for some of the beef, or adding noodles instead of potatoes. If you were lucky enough to grow up with a Hungarian grandmother, by all means add her recipe for nokedli dumplings!

But whatever you do: Make sure you have plenty of Hungarian paprika before you start. It’s worth getting a fresh jar if yours has been standing in the pantry for a year or more. Or stop by our shop to pick up just the amount you need.

Here is Ronit’s tribute to this international favorite:

Get the recipe »» Hungarian Goulash