The powdered paprika both gives the stew both flavour and colours it red.
There is a great deal of onion, which sweetens and “melts” away into a sauce. Garlic and bell peppers are frequently added. Potatoes are not typical.
The meat is usually beef or pork, but it can be veal, chicken, lamb, game, offal such as tripe or liver, or even fish. Whatever meat is used, it is boneless.
“Pacalpörkölt” is Pörkölt made with tripe (“pacal” meaning “tripe” in Hungarian.) “Marhapörkölt” is made with beef; “csirkepörkölt” with chicken; “borjupörkölt” with veal.
There are regional differences in the recipes; for instance, a Czech version of it adds beer.
Generally, when making Pörkölt, onions and any garlic are sautéed first in melted lard in a pot. You remove the pot from the heat, then add the paprika (many cooks say this step is important — they say the paprika can turn bitter if subjected to sudden heat on the stovetop.) You then put the pot back on the stove, adding the meat, then enough water to partially cover the meat, and let braise covered until done, about 1 ½ hours, adding more water as needed. The final 15 minutes or so of cooking are done uncovered to ensure a very thick sauce.
Purists say you must never add flour or sour cream as a thickener. They also say that tomatoes or tomato paste are strangers to this recipe; you must get your red colour from the paprika alone. (Their reasoning is that tomatoes can make the sauce watery and sour, while not really adding anything to the overall flavour.) Some recipes add caraway seed; purists ban that, too.
Generally, additional seasonings are just salt and pepper.
Pörkölt is often compared with another Hungarian dish, paprikás (Paprikash in English.)
|based on meat, onion, paprika||based on meat, onion, paprika|
|wider variety of meats||lighter meats such as chicken, veal or pork|
|less water, only partially cover the meat, very thick sauce that coats the meat||more water to make lots of gravy|
|more paprika||less paprika|
|no sour cream||sour cream added|
Both Pörkölt and a similar dish, Paprikash, are usually referred to (incorrectly but irremediably) in English as Goulash.
Paprika was introduced into Hungary by Turks in the 1500s and 1600s. It was treated as a garden ornamental in Hungary until about the 1820s, by which time it had become so popular in Hungarian kitchens that it displaced use of previously popular spices such as black pepper and ginger.
Pörkölt means “roasted” in Hungarian, from the verb “pörkölni.”
Davidson, Alan. Goulash Entry in: The Penguin Companion to Food. London: The Penguin Group, 2002.