Some days it’s really hard to be married to a family you can’t understand. There are countless awkward moments, nights spent on the fringe of dinner conversations, jokes you can’t understand, and giggles about your language attempt. But there are so many awesome days. Sunday was one of those days.
We went to Gabi’s brother, Gergo, and his wife, Ditta’s, house for a family cookout. Ditta’s dad was making red wine beef stew, pörkölt in Hungarian. And he was doing it the traditional way, over open fire in the backyard.
We arrived around 11 AM and it only took a few minutes for Istvan, Ditta’s dad, to bust out his 2002 homemade pálinka. Despite the stories of homemade pálinka making you blind (think moonshine), you just don’t say no when someone offers you their 13 year old hand crafter baby. Lucky for us, Istvan has been making pálinka for years and knows his stuff. He dropped some pretty interesting pálinka knowledge on us while we sipped his creation, which was surprisingly smooth and lacked the throat burning property of most pálinkas I’ve tasted.
Any Hungarian dish made over open fire should take a minimum of three hours. Sure, slow cooking the meat allows it to tenderize and the flavors to really come together. But the real reason is so that you can hang outside and drink. Sör (beer), bor (wine), and pálinka all made an appearance while we carefully minded the stew. I’m guessing the little buzz everyone gets going just makes the food taste that much better.
During those three hours we also harvested some blackberries. Ditta and Gergo have an amazing garden full of fruit trees and bushes. Nothing like picking berries on a hot day.
Now back to that red wine beef stew. Istvan shared his secrets with me and I’m going to share them with you! And when we return to the USA we will bring an open fire pot and the buzzed-before-noon tradition with us. Sundays just got a lot more exciting.
(Keep in mind nothing was measured so I did my best to put accurate amounts in there. Istvan did give me some strict instructions on timing which is noted. This fed seven of us with leftovers.)
- Animal lard (we used pork)
- 4-5 medium sized onions diced
- 1 pound pork belly or bacon chopped
- 1-2 pounds smoked pork meat (This is optional. There are WAY more pork options in Hungary so this might be hard to find in the US. Add some extra bacon and you’ll be fine.)
- 3-4 pounds beef roast chopped into 1 inch bites
- 10 bay leaves (halved)
- 2 tbsp cumin (halved)
- 1 tbsp nutmeg (halved)
- 2 tbsp mustard (halved)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 5 Hungarian peppers (We could usually find these in Kroger or at the farmers market in Atlanta. They are long yellow peppers. If you can’t find them, bell peppers are an OK alternative.)
- 1 bottle dry red wine
- 5 tomatoes chopped
- 3 tbsp sweet/mild paprika (or more)
Start with a hot fire or outside gas burner (of course you can do this over the stove if you prefer). You need a heavy bottomed pan that can withstand the very high heat. In Hungarian this is called a bogracs and are made out of stainless steel, cast iron, pocelian, or copper and many are coated in enamel. Get your pan nice and hot and add some lard. While animal lard is making a comeback in the US, you can of course use butter if you don’t happen to have any bacon fat handy (although you really should always have bacon fat handy…).
Add onions and pork belly/bacon to the lard and sautee until onions are soft. Add smoked pork and enough water to cover everything about halfway. Let this simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Next you’ll add the beef. The beef will produce some of it’s own liquid but keep your eye one it. Add a cup or two of water to start and continue to add more when things start to thicken up. You’ll want the meat to be covered in liquid most of the time to allow the meat to tenderize.
While you let the meats get familiar with each other, throw in about half your bay leaves, half your cumin, half your mustard, half your nutmeg, and black pepper/salt to taste. Stir this all in and let it simmer for a couple minutes and then toss in the Hungarian peppers. Let this sit for another 20 minutes.
Next open up our wine and toss in about 1/4 of the bottle. Stir well and continue the simmer proccess. Keep your eye on the liquid level and from now on alternate between wine and water when things get sticky. It’s important you use the entire bottle for the stew (Melissa – this means you may want to buy two bottles since I know you’ll drink half…).
Add the tomatoes and the remainder of your spices EXCEPT the paprika. Simmer, stir, and add wine/water for the next one – two hours. Your meat should be super tender, flavors combined, and guests getting a little punchy from the pálinka.
Now is when you add your paprika. This happens 10 minutes before you take the pot off the fire. No sooner. No later. The stew should be pretty thick, almost sauce like. Remove the pot from the fire and get ready to chow.
This recipe is traditionally served with nokedli, a Hungarian dumpling similar to spaetzle. Nokedli is so important to Hungarian cuisine that Gabi’s mom gave me a nokedli maker the first time she met me. If you want to be lazy, you can use macaroni noodles but it is not the same. The dumplings are soft and squishy and soak up all the juices of the stew much better. It’s not even a question in my opinion, nokedli is a MUST. Each family has their own way of making it, the main difference being the addition of eggs. Gabi’s mom made the nokedli this time and she said to never use eggs, so that’s what we’re going with.
Anyu’s Nokedli Recipe
- 3 cups flour
- About 1.5 cup water
- Salted pot of boiling water
Yup, two ingredients. Add water to your flour until the dough thickens and comes together. You want it gooey, but not watery. We used a spaetzle maker which really speeds things up and is much easier on the wrist. If you don’t have one handy you can use the old fashion spoon technique. You drop your dough on a cutting board and quickly slice off small bits into the bowling water with the edge of a spoon. Not as fun as using the handy maker.
You place your maker about three inches above the boiling water and fill the the loader with dough. Move it back and forth while the dough falls into the pot. Boil the nokedli until they float to the top and remove with a slotted spoon. Continue until you’ve used all the dough.
Serve the pörkölt over the nokedli and enjoy. And as with everything dish in Hungary, this was served with a side of pickles. I love this place.