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Hungry for some goulash

I SPENT a rewarding afternoon last week sitting downstairs at the Court Wine Bar, casually sipping on a big glass of red.

I was trying to get over a cold that wouldn’t go away and decided to drown the blighter with alcohol, as conventional methods did not seem to have had any effect.

While the big red was beginning to warm my soul and distract my thoughts, I remembered my mother’s advice to “feed a cold and starve a fever”.

Those of you who know the fare at the Court will realise that, if there’s one dish on the menu that signifies winter in Perth, it has got to be the goulash.

The last time it was fashionable to serve goulash (or for that matter any stew) was back in the days when Barry Cable danced around the Victorians in proper state of origin football. These days not many restaurants seem to serve up a hearty bowl of “comfort food”. And that’s a pity, because stew and goulash can evoke feelings of contentment, warmth, homeliness and familiarity.

It may still not be fashionable, but my bowl of goulash and warming glass of red from the kitchen at the Court Wine Bar was like rediscovering a lost treasure.

The humble goulash, Hungary’s national dish, can be traced back well over 1,000 years. The Magyar nomads who grazed their flocks and herds on the ‘puszta’, Hungary’s enormous central plain, were quite taken with knocking off one of their lambs in order to whip up a soup or stew called gulyas (goulash).

The nomads would use plenty of onions, whatever herbs they could muster, and any other flavourings they might have been able to dig up from around the place.

We all know today that you need not only potatoes in your goulash, but also paprika.

These two ingredients were only added to this national dish after Christopher Columbus arrived back in Europe from his journey to the Americas.

Over time, the nomadic Magyar shepherds gave up wandering around the expansive plains and settled into establishing towns. It was only after these towns were established that the refinement of goulash began.

One of those refinements was the shift from lamb to beef. Lamb from the plains was considered meat for the lower classes and the lamb originally used would have been rather gamy and of quite poor quality.

One of the great rules when preparing goulash is to ensure that you don’t fry it, as overheating of goulash tends to make it bitter. Remove the onions from heat and let them cool before adding paprika.

For best results it is best to use genuine Hungarian paprika, so searching stores like Food in Subiaco and Kakulas Bros in Northbridge will deliver you best results.

The paprika needs to be the sweet kind, not hot.

The next important point to remember is that you should never thicken goulash. Traditional goulash will thicken naturally as potatoes are added.

Sometimes goulash will include tomatoes and green capsicum, but you can’t pull the wool over the traditionalists’ eyes. How many green capsicum plants were popping up over the plains in outback Hungary all those years ago? Hungarian goulash has only onion, potato and flavourings. The best cut of meat tends to be prime chuck and you should try to get some with a little fat on it.

Another very important part of the character of traditional goulash is to fry the onions in good old fashion lard. Not a very kosher option these days with our health-conscious

public.

The Hungarians, I believe, still have the highest rate of heart disease in Europe. But unless you use lard, traditionalists say, you do not get the full aroma of the onion or the colour of paprika coming through in your goulash.

My insight into the traditional goulash dish comes from an old and wise friend who has never written down her recipe.

The combination of ingredients is embedded in memory and tradition and I am always grateful for a take-home container.

The only other time I get serious about goulash is in the homely confines of the Court Wine Bar.

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