Czech Beef Goulash (Hovězí Guláš)
When I think of Czech food, beef with gravy and dumplings immediately comes to mind. Hovězí guláš (pronounced hovy-ez-ee goo-lah-sh) is probably the most recognizable Czech dish and certainly one of the most popular. From touristy restaurants in Old Town Square to local cafeterias and pubs outside of the city centre, guláš can be found across Prague and the Czech Republic. Hovězí guláš is a relatively simple, but delicious, beef stew flavoured with paprika, marjoram and caraway. Keeping true to the meat-centric reputation of Czech cuisine, the dish consists of beef and gravy without a vegetable in sight. It was the first dish I ordered when visiting Prague this summer and the taste did not disappoint.
I researched a number of recipes and discovered some great resources for cooking Czech food. I wanted to replicate the deep, bold flavours that I experienced in Prague and after trying a couple variations, I settled on a recipe that delivers that same rich flavour. The recipe was inspired by several sources, Czech Cookbook, 196 Flavors, Little Bit of Czech and TheWayICook.
In order to make the best guláš possible, I decided to make homemade beef broth and homemade lard specifically for this recipe. This was a great experience in itself, given that homemade broth and lard are traditionally used to make guláš. I’ve also found that lard is used more commonly in Prague restaurants (served with bread, for example) than in North America. Also, in some circles there has been renewed interest in rendering lard at home as a less-processed alternative to vegetable oil and canola oil. I’m looking forward to cooking with the homemade lard, everything from frying, sautéing and baking. If successful, rendering lard could be a worthwhile “food DIY” once in a while.
Finally, I’ll note that many parts of the world know “goulash” as Hungarian soup. However, Czech goulash is a separate dish altogether and is more similar to the Hungarian dish called pörkölt. While both Czech and Hungarian goulash are flavoured with paprika, their preparation and presentation are otherwise quite different.
Czech Beef Goulash
3 Tbsp homemade lard or vegetable oil
2 lbs stewing beef (chuck, for example)
4 onions, 3 diced and 1 sliced, to garnish
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp Hungarian paprika
1 Tbsp marjoram (can be substituted with oregano)
1 tsp caraway seeds, whole or powder
3 cups beef broth, homemade if available
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
Heat lard or vegetable oil in large pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Brown the beef in two batches, adding slowly to ensure the pot remains hot. Brown beef on all sides then remove from the pot and set aside. Cut beef pieces in half or about one inch cubes.
In same pot, add onions and sauté on medium heat until golden brown. Add garlic and sauté for a couple minutes. Then re-add the beef and add paprika, marjoram, caraway seeds and cook together for several minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
If cooking on the stove top, add 3 cups of beef broth. Cover and simmer gently until beef is tender, between 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally. The liquid should reduce and become thicker. Add additional beef broth or water if the guláš becomes too dry.
Alternatively, if using a pressure cooker or Instant Pot, add ~2 cups of beef broth and cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. Use the “natural release” method on Instant Pot (this takes 10 minutes). When completed and beef is tender, boil the guláš rapidly on the stove top or use the Instant Pot sauté function until gravy has thickened and reduced.
Adjust seasoning and check thickness of the gravy. If desired, add 1-2 Tbsp of all-purpose flour dissolved in hot water to further thicken in the gravy.
Enjoy with Czech bread dumplings (houskový knedlíky), fresh bread, potatoes or pasta. If possible, cook enough guláš for leftovers as this dish becomes even more flavourful the following day.
– Most guláš recipes suggest sautéing the onions before adding the stewing beef. However, I find this method makes it difficult to quickly brown the beef without losing moisture from the meat. I recommend the method that I noted above or an alternative method of browning so that the guláš has a dark, rich gravy.