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Author Notes: I'm going to say right up front that this is a project, and while it can absolutely be assembled in a single session, it wouldn't hurt to consider dividing the labor over two days, or between morning and late-afternoon/early evening (i.e., around dinnertime). Not because it's particularly complicated--don't be intimidated by length of the ingredient list; it's mostly the contents of your spice rack--but because after the initial busywork, it's mostly waiting around for the meat to slow-cook at low heat over an extended period. And don't stews always taste better the next day?
Anyway, the back story: I was home sick (read: hungover) from work one day about five years ago, trying in vain to find a Law & Order marathon on the tube, when I came across Good Eats on Food Network. The episode was "Beef Stew," and Alton Brown was preparing a goulash in a way I had never seen before. He took several pounds of English-cut short ribs and seared them on a griddle pan. Then he blended tomato paste, worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar, paprika, and herbs, and coated the browned meat in it. Then he sealed it in foil and cooked it in the oven for 4 hours at 250. The meat was then separated from its juices, which were refrigerated until a fat cap formed and could be easily removed (and saved). He then cooked onions and potatoes in a little of the reserved fat before returning the meat and de-fatted sauce to the mixture and stewing them together briefly to complete the dish.
I became fascinated with this technique and decided to try adapting it to the classic Hungarian Szekely Gulyas, which is a pork and sauerkraut stew, usually seasoned with paprika and caraway, sometimes cooked with tomatoes and banana peppers, and always finished with sour cream. I've tried this method several times now, with varied cuts of pork including cheek, butt, shoulder, neck, belly, and sparerib. A combination of belly, butt, and neck has yielded the best results so far, so that is what I call for here.
Some notes about esoteric ingredients:
Lecso is like a Hungarian version of ratatouille. It's a stew of tomatoes, peppers, and onion, usually seasoned with garlic and paprika, and if you're into canning, it's a great way to preserve the late-summer bounty. (In the colder months, many Hungarian cooks substitute lecso for the out-of-season fresh tomatoes and peppers in their recipes.) It's admittedly not the easiest ingredient to source, but there are two varieties I have seen: the one by Bende is like a chunky sauce and has a sweeter, more tomato-y flavor than the Gossari brand, which is slightly more bitter and emphasizes the pepper flavor, while also having a higher oil content, which gives it good body when pureed. If you can't find either of these, stewed tomatoes make an acceptable substitute. But if you want to be really DIY about it (and have the basis for another meal altogether--lecso is really good cooked with smoked sausage and/or eggs), it's super-easy to make. These are good recipes:
http://homepage.interaccess.com/~june4/lesco.html OR http://zsuzsaisinthekitchen.blogspot.com/2010/10/hungarian-ratatouille-lecso.html OR http://www.thehungarydish.com/lecso-recipe-guest-post-by-peter-pawinski/. The basic rule of thumb is a 2:1:1 (by weight) ratio of peppers:tomatoes:onions. Cook the onions (and garlic, if using) in a little lard or bacon fat until soft, then add some paprika to taste (do this off heat so as not to burn the paprika), then throw in the peppers and cook a few minutes before adding the tomatoes, salt, and pepper, and simmering until a saucy consistency has been achieved. As for which peppers to use, traditionally you'd use Hungarian wax, a mixture of sweet and hot to taste, but you can use banana, bell, cubanelle, green Italian frying peppers, whatever is available, basically. If you do make your own, you can omit the stewed tomatoes and banana peppers when finishing the goulash and substitute an equivalent amount of lecso.
Dill seed is, yes, the seed of the dill plant, and it has a flavor reminiscent of caraway, but lighter. Information here: http://www.seriouseats.com/2010/11/spice-hunting-dill-seed-how-to-use.html
As mentioned above, this is an adaptation of Alton Brown's "Good Eats Beef Stew" recipe, which can be found here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/good-eats-beef-stew-recipe/index.html —Bogre
For the Pork:
- 1.5 pounds pork neck bones
- 1/2 pound fresh pork belly, cut into 1.5-2-inch pieces
- 2 pounds fresh pork butt or shoulder, cut into 1.5-2-inch cubes
- neutral oil, such as sunflower, canola, or vegetable, for browning
- 1 teaspoon (each) kosher salt, whole black peppercorns, fennel seed, & caraway seed
- 1/2 teaspoon (each) cumin seed, coriander seed, dill seed, dried rosemary, dried thyme, & dried marjoram
- 12 juniper berries
- 1 tablespoon sugar, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
- 1 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 3/4 cup lecso, pureed (or substitute a drained can of stewed tomatoes pureed with one roasted red pepper)
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- Set oven to 400 F. Rinse the neck bones and pat dry. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and set a wire rack in it. Season the bones with salt and pepper and set on the rack, then roast in the oven 60 minutes, turning the bones over halfway through. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and set aside. Lower heat to 250 F.
- Toast whole seeds briefly in a dry skillet. Let cool, then transfer to a mortar or spice grinder. Blitz with the remaining herbs, the kosher salt, the juniper berries, and the sugar. Combine with the sweet and hot paprika, then whisk in a large bowl with the tomato paste, lecso, vinegar, and Worcestershire sauce. Set aside.
- Rinse the pork butt and pat dry. Do the same with the belly. Season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan. Brown butt/shoulder and belly pieces all over, working in batches and transferring browned pieces to a large bowl to catch all their juices. When all the pork is browned, toss the belly, butt/shoulder pieces, and any accumulated juices in the bowl with the spice paste. Spread the roasted neck bones in the bottom of a large casserole or 9 x 13 baking dish. Smother with the spice-paste-coated pork, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl so every last bit of paste makes it into the baking dish. Cover the dish tightly with foil, secure with the lid, and braise in the oven 4 hours. At about the halfway mark, your kitchen will start to smell amazing.
- Remove the casserole from the oven. Uncover (taking care to avoid steam-burning yourself!). Remove the pork from the sauce with a slotted spoon or tongs and prepare each component for storage separately. You can also take this opportunity to separate the neck meat from the bones--either discard or reserve them for stock. When both pork and sauce have cooled to room temperature, refrigerate them until ready to use again.
To finish the goulash:
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as sunflower or canola
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped (remove and discard any green shoots)
- 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, crushed
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 cup water
- 15 ounces can stewed tomatoes with their juice, roughly chopped (OR: omit, along with the peppers, and substitute an equivalent amount of lecso)
- Reserved pork and de-fatted sauce
- 1 pound sauerkraut, rinsed and drained (use the bagged variety)
- 1/2 pound banana or cubanelle peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped (OR: omit, along with the stewed tomatoes, and substitute lecso)
- sour cream, for garnish
- cooked egg noodles, boiled potatoes, or spaetzle for serving
- If the sauerkraut is very fresh, simmer in water until tender, then drain and set aside. Take the pork and its sauce from the refrigerator. Let the pork come to room temperature. (The reserved sauce should have congealed and have a consistency like that of refrigerated gravy.) If a fat cap has formed on the surface of the sauce, remove it. (If there is a significant amount of fat, reserve a little for sautéing and discard the rest, or reserve for another use.)
- Heat 2 tbsp fat or oil (or a mix of both) over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until tender and translucent and turning golden. Remove from heat and add the paprika, caraway, and water, and whip to integrate. Return the pan to heat and add the tomatoes and their juice, the pork, and the sauce. Mix in the sauerkraut and the peppers and bring to a simmer. Then cover, lower the heat, and stew for 30 minutes.
- Toss warm noodles, potatoes, or spaetzle with a spoonful of the reserved fat or some butter or oil and divide among bowls. Spoon the goulash over and top each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of paprika.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Cheap Feast