Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
When I first started cooking for myself more than 50 years ago, I had a simple strategy. If small amounts of aromatics are good… then more should be better. That was practiced with onion, garlic and oregano and many spices.
At my basement apartment on Onslow Gardens in London, my garret at Rue Blanche in Paris and my Mott Street single-bedroom in New York, you knew I was cooking because the smells would permeate the corridors. At the time, many recipes seemed to me as being too timid; so the spices and other seasonings were practically doubled. And that heavy hand worked… sometimes, when the food was bold and beautifully flavorful.
On the other hand, more garlic… is just more garlic; and an entire raw head of garlic chopped in yoghurt to make tzatziki sauce, is no longer part of my repertory (mostly because my wife made me sleep facing the wall when I, initially, started making tzatziki for her, using an entire head of garlic) - a couple large cloves usually are sufficient, unless I’m making a large batch.
My cooking is far more subtle now and with far better ingredients. But I still go big with some spices such as Chilean merquén (smoked chili pepper), Egyptian mint and tart Turkish sumac.
Through my peregrinations, I have accumulated a number of recipes that I like and I tend to ether cook them frequently or make a large batch, and then freeze what’s left after dinner.
A good example is Székely Gulyás – a pork and sauerkraut dish; I got the recipe from András Hernádi, the executive chef at the Hungarian Consulate in New York City.
As he noted, it is not a real goulash nor it is derived from the Székler ethnic group of Transylvania. It is a dish that a Hungarian called Székely, a county archivist, asked to be cooked at the Arany Ökör Inn of Budapest when he arrived late one evening and the kitchen had already sold everything cooked for that day. Supposedly, all that was left in the larder was a piece of pork and sauerkraut, so he asked the cook to mix those together, add some onion, garlic and spices, add some sour cream and, lo and behold, the Székely Gulyás was born.
In my version, the ingredients are fairly simple.
1.5 lbs pork, original recipe calls for leg or shoulder (as mentioned below I use pork loin)
1/3 lb. bacon
2 lbs sauerkraut
1 large yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp crushed caraway seeds
1 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp spicy smoked paprika; a good substitute for spicy paprika is Spanish spicy smoked pimentón de la Vera or Chilean Merquén
2 tbsp flour
1 ½ cup sour cream - divided
Salt and pepper to taste
My version of Székely Gulyás uses, in addition to the ingredients above, pork loin instead of pork leg, sweet paprika and merquén instead of the spicy paprika or the pimentón. I usually serve this dish over egg noodles or with Knedlíky bread dumplings or over rice cooked in chicken stock. It tastes as good as the dish I had at the consulate, but has more of a kick!
I have seen a few other variations of this dish: one that included poppy seeds and only sweet paprika, a second with both sweet and spicy paprika and tomato paste, a third using crushed juniper berries and only spicy paprika, and a fourth using both pork sausage and smoked salty meat (pork or beef), instead of the pork shoulder that the original recipe required.
Dice the pork into ¾ inch pieces and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Dice the bacon. Dice the onion and garlic. Rinse the sauerkraut under cold running water for at least 3 minutes and drain well.
Sauté the bacon in a skillet without any oil, until crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper towel on a plate to drain excess fat. In the juices and fat from the bacon in the skillet, sauté the onion and garlic. Take the skillet off the heat and add the pork, paprika(s) and crushed caraway seeds. Lower heat to medium/low. Replace the skillet on heat, then cover and sauté ingredients for 10 minutes, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Add a small amount of water if necessary. Add the sauerkraut and enough water to cover the meat and sauerkraut. Simmer, until the meat is falling apart. Make sure the liquid doesn't boil off.
If using smoked salted meat, parboil the smoked meat to soften and remove some of the salt, then add to the skillet at the same time as the water.
Mix the flour with a splash of water and blend to a smooth paste. Stir in half of the sour cream, mix well and add to skillet to thicken the juices.
Arrange the pork and sauerkraut on a warm serving dish. Pour the remaining sour cream over the dish, sprinkle reserved bacon on top, and serve. The secret to making a great Székely Gulyás is salting and peppering the pork liberally and then letting it rest for at least 1 hour prior to cooking.
Whichever version you make, your palate will thank you!
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