Earlier this year I saw Rick Stein on TV making some goulash (or was it gulasch?). He said that his Viennese style version reminded him of the classic dish that was so common in the UK back in the 1970s and 80s. A few days later I had a strange, vivid dream that I was back in the 1970s and eating endless bowls of goulash.
In fact, that probably wasn't such a strange dream. There were endless bowls of goulash back then. Pretty much everyone that I knew in the late 70s seemed to cook goulash as often as possible. Mr Stein's version wasn't quite the dish that I remember, though, and I felt compelled to try to recreate the one in my head. This is my attempt and it comes close. It's actually a bit lighter than the 1970s dishes and I don't think we'd heard of smoked paprika back then but I couldn't resist adding just a little. Mr Stein also avoids green peppers in his recipe but I seem to recall that they were definitely part of the South London version.
I remember a number of people crediting The Gay Hussar restaurant in London as the inspiration behind their goulash. I doubt that many of them had actually been there, though, and they probably found the recipes in magazines. But the Gay Hussar was just the kind of place that you really had to talk about back then, even if you couldn't afford to eat there. It wasn't exactly trendy - it was more of a legend. I'm very pleased to see that the GH still exists (almost all of the restaurants I remember from back then are just historical footnotes) but I admit that I've not been near the place in many years. I don't often recall the meals of the 1970s with much fondness, but this was a good dish back then and it's still surprisingly good now. Without regular (very regular) servings of goulash we might not have survived the 1970s.
This serves 2 fairly generously - the 1970s were generous times at least as far as portion sizes were concerned.
2 onions, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
¼ tsp caraway seeds
4 tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp smoked paprika
400 g shin of beef, cut into chunks (small chunks but definitely not tiny)
Beef stock (about 500 ml)
2 green peppers
1 tbsp tomato purée
Sour cream to serve if you fancy it
Gently fry the onion in a little oil until it begins to soften. (OK, lard or dripping may be a bit more authentic, but they were more 1950s than 1970s). Add the garlic, chilli, caraway seeds and both types of paprika and continue to fry for a minute or so while stirring regularly. Season with a generous amount of pepper and a little salt.
Stir in the beef and fry for few minutes more until it's well coated with the spices and onions. Add a little beef stock – only around the bottom third of the beef chunks should be in the liquid. Cover the pan lightly and allow it to simmer for between 90 minutes and 2 hours or until the beef is tender. You don't need to do too much to the dish during this period, just stir occasionally and add more stock or water if it threatens to dry out.
You don't need to grill and skin the peppers, but I think it improves the 2016 version of the dish if you do. Core and deseed the peppers. Slice the flesh into quarters and grill them until the skins have blackened and the flesh has softened. Then either seal them in a plastic bag or place in a bowl and cover them. Either way, leave them until they're cool enough to handle and then peel off and discard the blackened skin. Cut the peppers into thick slices.
Once the beef is tender add the peppers and tomato purée to the pan and pour in some more stock. Exactly how much stock you add at this stage is down to how much sauce you want in the finished dish. I know some people like plenty of sauce for mopping up but I keep it relatively dry. Continue simmering for an additional 30 minutes or so.
Personally, I've never really understood the attraction of the dollop of sour cream that was often added when serving the goulash in the 1970s, but I know that many people thought it was the best bit, so don't let me stop you adding some if you wish. Everyone seemed to serve this dish with rice or, if they were feeling very avant-garde, some sort of noodles and either would be fine with me. Purists may well be outraged by such accompaniments but I'm being faithful to my South London roots.