One reason I love having a blog is that when I make something fabulous I have an outlet for my enthusiasm. Last night I made goulash, a dish I don’t think I’ve ever made before so I have no point of comparison, for what it’s worth. But taken solely at face value, Molly’s version is extraordinary. So perfect for a January night in Chicago, so warm and nurturing, so nuanced and complex. And the knodeln — Oh Em Dog — let me introduce you to these delightful little things if you don’t already know them. You’re gonna love each other.
But first, the goulash. Every culture has a stew because people have always needed a clever way of making something hearty and filling out of inexpensive cuts of meat and otherwise uninteresting supporting ingredients, or produce that’s in its final days. At first glance, this might look like a recipe you’ve seen many times before and you might wonder whether it’s worth making. But have faith: magic happens thanks to paprika.
There are 2 tablespoons of sweet (vs. hot) paprika in this dish so if you heed only one piece of advice from me let it be this: splurge on a new jar. Dried spices can lose their potency and flavor either quickly or over less time than you might think. If the last time you used the paprika on your shelf was to dust some deviled eggs two Easters ago, don’t risk it. And it doesn’t have to be anything fancy from a specialty store, McCormick’s worked just fine.
Second, the recipe calls for a fair amount — 4 cups — of vegetable or beef broth, so think carefully about what you use. Cook’s Illustrated has done taste tests on store-bought beef broths and concluded that most of them are not even remotely palatable (a complete lack of beef is the unsurprising reason why). They recommend Better Than Bullion as a compromise and that’s what I use and used in this recipe. I know Thomas Keller and Anthony Bourdain are sputtering as they read this and poised to write some strongly-worded comments about how you absolutely must make your own stock. Point conceded guys, I know. But if you are one of the people reading this who is not paid to cook and can therefore devote one day a week, or even a month, to make stock, then the Better Than Bullion will result in a much more successful dish than the brown sodium-juice posing as beef broth in the soup aisle. If you can’t find Better Than Bullion, use your favorite chicken broth (I like Swanson’s Organic).
I’d never heard of or eaten knodeln (rhymes with Snowden according to Google translate) but apparently it’s a kind of apres-ski matzo ball. And sort of fun to make. I did not have stale bread handy so I did what I do to make stuffing: cut white bread into the 1/2″ cubes and throw in a 200-degree oven for an hour or so. The bread is then mixed with milk and eggs and swiss cheese and then a little flour and nutmeg, formed into balls, and boiled. I was sure I’d made a mistake when I mixed it all together. I was expecting a dough and it looked more like a salad for someone like me who basically eats salads for the croutons. But I’ll be damned if it didn’t form nice little stuffing balls when squeezed and boiled up beautifully. Molly says cook for 15-20 minutes but check them at 10; mine looked like they might start falling apart at about 13. I also got 16 knodeln instead of Molly’s 8 but who’s gonna argue with more dumplings? They are the absolute perfect accompaniment to the goulash.
I do not own a slow cooker but thankfully Molly offers an alternative: simmer on the stove top (I used my dutch oven).
Bonus: this goulash will give your house an appetizing and embracing aroma.