Pörkölt: Don’t Make When Hungry!

Today, I decided to write a post about pörkölt - the popular Hungarian favorite in the goulash family. This slow-cooked stew-like dish is perfect fall fare. I chopped up the ingredients, sautéd the onion, added the paprika, and mixed everything in a big pan. When finished, I would take photos for the blog. Well, that was the plan.

P1080228When the pörkölt was done, I picked up a wooden spoon and tasted it. Yum! Then I took a second bite. Mmm! Then another. Hungarian heaven! Quickly, my pörkölt was disappearing. I should have known better. For me, eating pörkölt is like eating pototo chips, peanuts, or popcorn at the movies. Once I start, I don’t stop.

Well, I couldn’t post photos of a near-empty pan. So, I spooned what was left into a bowl, but that looked pretty sad. What to do? I tried smothering the pörkölt with garnishes of peppers, parsley, and P1080237tomatoes to fill up the space. I pushed the pörkölt pieces around to make it look fuller. I contemplated removing it all, setting a sponge or a can of tuna into the bowl then ladling it back on top. In the end I decided to take really close shots so you wouldn’t see how little was left and call me a pörkölt pig.  Lesson learned: Never prepare a blog post when hungry – especially when writing about pörkölt.

Sertéspörkölt (pork pörkölt) from Culinaria Hungary

Ingredients: 1 3/4 lb/800 g pork (leg or shoulder), 1 large onion, 2-3 bell peppers, 1 large tomato, 2 tbsp oil, 1/2 tsp ground paprika, salt.

Directions: Cut the meat into 3/4 inch/2 cm cubes. Finely chop onion. Seed and chop the bell peppers. Cut the tomato into 8 pieces. Sauté the onion in the oil, and remove from the heat. Add the peppers and the meat. Return to the heat and cook for a few minutes, stirring continuously. Season with salt, then add the paprika and pieces of tomato. Cover, and leave to cook in its own joices. If necessary, replace any of the juices that evaporate with a little warm water. Serve with dumplings or pasta. Enjoy!

15 thoughts on “Pörkölt: Don’t Make When Hungry!

  1. I also LOVE porkult!!! It was a main dish that everyone enjoyed as my kids were growing up! The decision was always do we want pork or chicken? This is also delicious with chicken pieces!! :)

  2. Én is szeretem a pörköltet bármilyen húsból de nokedlival, rizsel vagy burgonyával is megy de még tarhonyával is. Én Melbourne lakom és minden héten van pörkölt nálunk.

  3. I live in England and we love porkolt too. when I was growing up in Hungary we had porkolt almost every weekend as one of the main meals. Today we eat it with rice, as my children are not keen on “nokedli” but whenever I’m back home, my mam makes the nokedli with the “szaggato” the one with the bigger holes. The best is to eat it with fresh almost still warm noki and some sour side salad such as gerkins, tomato and onion salad. hmmmmmmmmmm yummy

  4. There are some important lessons with pörkölt, though. I realized this in Buenos Aires, where they served beef pörkölt under the name “goulash”:

    - If you use oil (sunflower or corn oil if you must) you’ll loose a fairly high amount of the taste. You can use goose lard or duck lard, or mangalitsa lard (any pig’s lard really). A heaping tablespoon is usually enough get you going.
    - I usually start sauteeing the onions with kolozsvári szalonna (smoked bacon). This does not contain much fat, but give a great smokey taste to the food
    - never use just any ground paprika, try to get one made in Hungary, the taste is completely different from what you can usually get in Spain or Latin America.
    - use pungent, red onions – if it doesn’t sting it is no good, if it doesn’t smell strongly of onions it will be just to sweet with no taste
    - while the size of the meat cuts may differ based on the type of meat you’ll be using, never cut it smaller than a bite sized (in BsAs it was like pulled pork), you want larger pieces with more tender meat with less or cleaner ‘own’ taste (so quality beef sirloin should be large 2-3cm cubes that you need to cut into half to eat)
    - IMHO 1/2 teaspoon of ground paprika for a kilo of stuff is not really enough (Hungarians add more), I personally use quality house ground szegedi paprika about 1 + 1/2 heaping tablespoons and I add 1/2 tablespoon of ground spanish smoked paprika as well for a more smokey feel
    - I usually add dry, not too tanninic red wine as extra liquid to the meat, be careful with it, as wine can change the acidity, sweetness or make the taste ‘murky’ depending on the wine (I suggest make a pörkölt first without, taste some wines with your pörkölt and pick the one you feel is harmonious), use 2-3dl maximum (more will change the taste too much)
    - to achieve a more robust taste, or if you feel you need more body to your pörkölt use only a pinch or two of ground cumin (római kömény – cuminum cyminum and not ‘kömény’ or caraway)
    - don’t use any premade goulash creams, piros arany or alike, you simply don’t need them
    - if you want to make your pörkölt spicey add you favourite chily pepper raw and chopped after the onion is sauteed, or use the smoked jalapeno/habanero versions of the smoked paprika I recommended above. If you put any of these into it, forget the red wines during or after cooking. Drink beer or spritzer (wine + carbonated water)…

    More Tips:

    - try and cook the whole thing on open fire, over wood (not charcoal), the results are a magnitude better than on a gas or electric stove
    - the whole concept of pörkölt (it means literally: charred/roasted) is to have the food under just enough liquid to cover, but the pieces should stick out, then as the liquid evaporates and the meat starts to roast, then you add more liquid and you do this several times, the idea is to cook while you roast – NB: most Hungarians are too lazy to do this (also it requires tremendous practice and experience to set the temperature and timing right), so they roast the meat for the first time after they put it in raw, then cook it under cover (if it doesn’t have enough liquid, you add), then let enough liquid evaporate to get the right thickness
    - actually a pörkölt can be made of onion, meat, paprika, salt and some fat, some people go as far as to omit the onions and the fat (in case of pork, they use the fat from the meat)
    - for the health conscious: it is also great with steamed green beans, broccoli or cauliflowers as a side (although it is not traditional at all)

  5. You said to use pork leg or shoulder- Do you know the Hungarian word for pork leg/shoulder? I want to make sure I grab the right cut at the store. I must try this. :D

    • Hi. This is what the book Culinaria Hungary called for, but when I went to the store, the nicest piece I found was karaj. Hope this helps.

      • Phil, You don’t need to use the best part of pork, also the least of fat as “karaj” for the porkolt. “Karaj” is the best for Wiener Schnitzel/rantott hus or stuffed pork/toltott karaj, if you use one piece of “karaj”. Besides “karaj” is too expensive for porkolt, and can be dry because of not much of fat part.
        You want to use “sertes labszar” /pork leg/shoulder/, that has a good amount of fat. Don’t worry about this fat will evaporate almost all, but during the cooking it gives a fuller taste of the porkolt. I agree also to use more paprika, sweet and a little hot one too, just for the kick. I put the peppers and tomato only around half way of cooking the meat, almost et the end. I don’t like them too mushy. The pork/chicken stew never ever need wine in it. Hold on to it, cheering with at the dinner, when wishing ” Jo etvagyat!”. How much I miss that in America! Even wishing “Enjoy” is not mandatory, and not the same feel.

  6. I read here, some suggests to make porkolt with lard instead of oil. So I would go farther: let`s make porkolt with smoked `szalonna`. Do you know what it is?

  7. I’m not a vegetarian but I don’t really like meat. I eat some… but this is complicated. Despite this, I really like the sauce of pörkölt, especially chicken paprika (this way I don’t find tiny little meat in the sauce) with pasta or nokedli. :)

  8. I live in California and all my American friends love gulash (beef stew) or paprikas (veal or chicken) pork is not so customery to use in the Alfold region where I come from. I always use lard, or cut the fat off the meat but use it for cooking and discard it later, do not eat it. With chicken finish it up with some sour cream in the sauce and with veal also. Teke the meat out of the sauce and boil it together with the sour cream. Wine I do not use to cook with, but drink it after, red with beef and white with chicken. And if you are dieting, as Julia Child said, eat less, but do not sacrifice the taste. Jo etvagyat!

  9. I come from Austria,but live in England,my late Mother used Shin when she made Gulasch also only used white Onion! Why,I am not sure but it was heaven in a “nice deep bowel”
    Have not seen Bell papers here in the UK?!

  10. on the porkolt recipe there’s no mention of whether its cooked stove top or in the oven. doesn’t state the temperature for either process. would also like to know the time frame for this dish.

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