Wednesday, 23 May 2007

A Tale Of Three Goulashes

A few weeks ago I was captivated by Mothers’ Distinctive Goulash/Gulyas by Karen Coates of Rambling Spoon. Note the correct apostrophe! Karen had been visited by two women of Austro-Hungarian origin - her mother and mother-in-law - and both had cooked very distinctive but quite different versions of the classic dish goulash, leaving her with the unenviable task of choosing a favoured recipe.

Fortunately I don't have any Austro-Hungarian mothers, so I have no risk of upsetting one. But what I do have here in Hackney is a good choice of paprika with which to attempt a goulash. I posted a comment on Karen's site: "I’ve recently bought some bright red "genuine Hungarian paprika" and some even more bright red "genuine Hungarian paprika" (as opposed to the brown Turkish paprika usually on sale here in Hackney). Having read a bit of Herve This’s book, I shall be setting up an experiment shortly, cooking one portion of goulash with each of the spices and comparing them. I’ll let you know how I get on."

I wasn't quite correct in my comment. What I actually had was three different paprikas - "Hungarian 1st class paprika" from the spice stall in Broadway Market, "genuine Spanish paprika" from the supermarket and "Indian paprika" from the local shop (which I suspect originated from the same "India" as my local Turkish shopkeepers themselves). Bright red, brownish red and reddish brown, respectively. The picture below shows all three in their packets.

Three paprikas - Hungarian, Spanish and Indo-Turkish

It's taken me a while to conduct the experiment, but I've done it at last, with help from my dad. As the idea was to compare paprika rather than to compare goulash, my choice of recipe was not that important. Nevertheless I had a look around the food blogs and found a couple of recent posts that looked good to me. Johanna's post Fiakergulasch (Beef Goulash) on The Passionate Cook was excellent, with an interesting discussion about the evolution of goulash from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its subsequent development in both Austria and Hungary. And my good friend Gerda published this recipe for Székelygulyás, which looked just what I had in mind for a pork and sauerkraut dish.

In the end I opted for Karen's mother-in-law's recipe (I think I've got that right), Gulyas by Jenny Redfern, despite some reservations about browning the meat after rubbing in the paprika. I was once told that the skill of goulash making is to fry paprika powder for as long as possible to bring out its flavour, but not so hot or so long as to allow it to turn bitter. So I was a bit worried that meat browning at high temperature might damage the spice. But it wasn't a problem.

Although we prepared each ingredient only once, we had to split them into three and cook three dishes in parallel, keeping the conditions as close to identical as possible. It was an exhausting exercise, but an enjoyable one. Eventually, with the kitchen piled high with bowls, chopping boards and cooking pans, our three goulashes were ready. We labelled the dishes underneath, shuffled them round and served ourselves from each bowl, trying our best not to identify them by colour or smell.

Three goulashes made identically, but one with each paprika

The result of our tasting was as follows (in descending order of preference):
Me: Hungarian, Indian, Spanish;
Dad: Hungarian, Spanish, Indian.

I thought the Spanish paprika lacked flavour, whereas the Indian (or was it Turkish?) had a distinctive bite to it. Dad thought the bite of the Indian was a lingering bitterness caused by its inability to withstand frying. But one thing we both agreed on. The Hungarian paprika was sweet, flavoursome and simply gorgeous. Its superiority scientifically (well, nearly) proven. If you click here you can see a photo record of the three goulashes being cooked, based on Jenny Redfern's Gulyás.


Karen said...

Fantastic! If only blogs offered the capacity for online taste-testing....

I will point both mothers this way, as I am sure they will be delighted and honored. (By the way, my mother shares your views on veal). Thank you for doing this!

Dad Redfern said...

My wife, Jenny, is thrilled you tested her recipe, which was handed down from her mother (may she rest in peace) who, in turn, got the recipe from her mother, who grew up on the Danube in Nyergesufalu (sp?) about 75 km NW of Budapest. There is no peer to Hungarian paprika and I honor your labor that proved the point.
If you ever come across Debrecen sausage (very paprika) you will find Goulash in a tube. Alas, my forebears hailed from your damp islands and lack the summer heat and sun that is unique to the Hungarian plain and must have something to do with the spice you get there.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I also prefer the Hungarian paprika that I find more round-tasting, sweet and flavorful...

Trig said...

Guess what I brought home from college the other night! These were a present from a fellow student of mine who is Hungarian and brought them back from her last trip home.

Jeanne said...

Cool idea, cool post. I have some Spanish paprika that I'm in love with but I don't think I've had Hungarian. Would love to though!

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