Answer No. 1: When it doesn’t have paprika in it.
Answer No. 2: When we say it isn’t. Take that, Answer No. 1.
I do understand that the classic Hungarian dish must contain beef, onions, tomatoes, sweet paprika and peppers, or else it gets its citizenship revoked. The same goes for its classic German cousin, Rindergulasch, which is very similar to the Hungarian version.
Nevertheless, ”goulash” is what we called the delicious braised beef my mom made, which has neither peppers nor paprika nor tomatoes. And I can’t call it anything else. It’s in the genes.
Now, there is a grand old North American tradition (according to Wikipedia) of slapping the name “goulash” upon any dish made with “miscellaneous leftovers.”
But there is nothing miscellaneous about Mom’s goulash, although it is extremely simple. Here is one way to make it for four people. If you have more people, add a half-pound of meat here, a carrot or two there, another slug of beer. Honestly, this dish won’t mind.
Basically: Take a pound of stew beef cubes (or beef chuck roast you cut up yourself) and brown it in a heavy ovenproof Dutch oven in 3 tablespoons of oil. Season the meat as you brown it with seasoned salt and pepper. When the beef is browned on all sides, add 2 cups of liquid, which can be water or beef broth, or nice, dry Belgian ale, or any combination thereof. Then add 1 to 2 diced yellow onions, 5 to 6 diced carrots, and a big bay leaf. Cover and bake about 2 1/2 hours in a 300-degree oven, until meat is tender. Serve over hot cooked egg noodles.
Years ago, I got into the habit of sticking it into the oven; I don’t remember why. But this beef can also be braised on top of the stove, which is how my mother did it. In this version you use less liquid — about 1 cup — but you have to keep checking it from time to time to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. If needed, add more liquid.
Either way, at the end of the cooking time, the liquid in the pot can be boiled down to make thicker gravy, or it can just be served as is. As kids, we liked it whichever way Mom chose to make it, as long as there was enough for seconds all around.
OK, so it’s not classic goulash. But it’s simplicity itself, and perfect midwinter comfort food.
(Another post in an occasional series of Ancestral Dishes.)