A true hearty Viennese goulash is a thick rich paprika beef stew with equal quantities of onions and beef which gives a sweet gravy that is seasoned with Austria’s favourite spice; caraway, plenty of garlic and marjoram.

Hungary’s national dish, Gulyás was the inspiration for the Viennese Goulash, adapted from a soup to a stew with less spiciness and the addition of caraway and marjoram, and christened Wiener Saftgoulash meaning Viennese gravy goulash.

With hundreds of different goulash versions made in coffeehouses, restaurants and Austrian homes, this recipe is a classic one that is followed by well-renowned chef Wolfgang Puck and the Sacher Hotel in Vienna.

Don’t be alarmed by the number of onions used in goulash. Besides the beef, it’s all about the onions, (12 of them!), which makes the goulash stand out.

The addition of red capsicums or peppers is not traditional in Viennese goulash, but rather a Hungary version called Gulyásleves. I like to add them anyway as it sweetens the goulash sauce and adds an extra tinge of red to the dish. This is an optional ingredient.

This heart-warming dish is perfect for cold days to warm up after being outdoors for long periods. Goulash is often sold at ski resorts as a perfect pick me up.

In Vienna, a popular variant of the Viennese goulash that is seen on many restaurant menus is the Fiakergoulash, named after Vienna’s horse carriages, that ferry the many tourists around the city sights. The goulash is served with a fried egg, a small split bratwurst, a large gherkin pickle and a few slices of serviettenknödel, a bread dumpling which I have included in this recipe as a gluten-free side. This heavy dish was invented to nourish the horse carriage men who would often stop off for a heart-warming lunch at the many Viennese inns and restaurants.

Which paprika is used?

Using unsmoked hot and sweet paprika is essential, none of those Spanish smoked paprikas will work in this dish. If you can find Hungarian paprika, this is the perfect one to use. Make sure the paprika smells fresh. Brands that top the lists are Kotányi and Szeged.

Although Vienna is next door to Hungary, it is amazingly hard to find Hungarian ingredients like this handy goulash paprika paste sold in squeezable tubes. I can only find it at some open-air markets and if I’m lucky occasionally at international supermarkets. Use it in place of the tomato paste should you find it in your country. It gives an extra Unami flavour to the dish.

 

What beef cuts are used?

 If you live in Austria, it is straightforward to find goulash meat already cut from the shank and packaged or the butchers will happily prepare perfect cuts if you let them know it’s for goulash.

Outside Austria, I would recommend a beef that doesn’t have too much grain but just enough connective tissue which will slowly break down into a tender goulash. Use stewing beef such as chuck or round steak for best results. Using any other cuts that are less tough will fall apart in this recipe and your goulash will end up being a mushy stew.

What beef substitutes can be used?

 If you rather use different meat, either pork or lamb shoulder can be used.

If you want to make a vegetarian goulash, some typical choices are potatoes, pumpkin or an assortment of mushrooms including chanterelles and other wild mushrooms. Reduce the cooking time from 3 hours to 1 hour for the vegetable goulash. Replacing the beef stock to a vegetable stock is easy using my homemade vegetable stock paste recipe.

You’ll need to swap the butter for plant-based butter to make this goulash vegan.

How is goulash eaten?

 Typically, either with:

  • a Kaiser Semmel bread roll by dipping in torn pieces into the goulash sauce
  • boiled or steamed potatoes
  • a few slices of potato Rösti cakes, which is exactly like a hash brown.
  • Sliced dumplings, Serviettenknödel.
  • Spätzle, a popular delicate egg pasta from Austria, Switzerland and Germany. It has a uniquely chewy, dumpling-like texture and is perfect for absorbing rich sauces like goulash.

Making the goulash at least one or two days ahead will enhance the flavour. Reheating the goulash is more common than eating it the same day it is prepared.

Viennese fondly have a saying that loosely translates “Reheating only works for goulash”, which when expressed it means someone is considering getting back together with their ex (like reheating a relationship)!

Soup or Stew?

If you want it as a soup, keep the lid on throughout the 3-hour simmering time and leave out the cornflour paste. For a stew with a thicker sauce, take the lid off during the last 30 mins to reduce the sauce slightly and add the cornflour paste as instructed in step 9.

What is Serviettenknödel?

Serviettenknödel literally means in German, Napkin dumplings. The dumplings are moulded into a log shape and wrapped in a napkin or for practical purposes, a kitchen tea towel and poached in water. They are later sliced and served with goulash or any casserole dish that has a sauce that needs mopping up by the dumpling slices.

The key ingredient in this dumpling is the bread, cut up into small cubes and soaked in milk for 20 minutes. In Austria, they sell gluten-free bread cubes especially made to prepare dumplings.

Outside of Austria, using store-bought gluten-free croutons will work well in this recipe, however, if you have some spare gluten-free Kaiser bread rolls (these can be frozen easily), these will be perfect and authentic to use.

This recipe is for a plain dumpling, however there are plenty of variations. To liven up this dumpling with even more flavour, add small pieces of ham, fried bacon pieces, snipped chives and/or shredded strong cheese.

 

VIENNESE GOULASH

Ingredients:
  • 1.5 kilos or 12 medium onions, chopped finely
  • 1.5 kilos goulash or stewing beef, cut into 5cm pieces
  • 4 tablespoons store-bought or homemade gluten-free plain flour
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 50g butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 red capsicums/bell peppers (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 750ml – 1-litre store-bought or homemade beef stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

 

For the goulash seasoning blend:

  • 1 ½ tablespoon hot paprika powder (unsmoked)
  • 1 ½ tablespoon sweet paprika powder (unsmoked)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground or whole caraway seeds
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried marjoram
  • Time to prepare: 30 minutes
  • Time to cook: 3 hours, 45 minutes
  1. Bring the beef out to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking.

2. In a large, deep, heavy-bottom pot, cook the onions in the olive oil, butter and pinch of salt for 35 minutes on medium-high heat until the onions look slightly golden but still soft and translucent. Cook on medium if you are using a thin bottom pot.

3. Mix the goulash seasoning in a small bowl and add this to the onions as well as the garlic, red capsicums and tomato paste.

4. Stir constantly for one minute. Do not over fry the seasoning as burnt paprika will ruin the dish.

5. Dry the beef cubes with a paper towel and coat them thoroughly and evenly with the flour.

6. Shake the excess flour off the beef and add them to the onions. Stir well and add the beef stock.

7. Add the bay leaves, salt and black pepper.

8. Allow the stock to come to a boil, then reduce the heat to the second-lowest setting on your stove. Cover and leave to simmer gently for 3 hours, or until the beef is very tender but not falling apart.

9. Mix the cornflour with a tablespoon or so of the goulash sauce in a small bowl until a smooth paste forms. Add this back to the goulash together with the lemon juice and stir in well. This will thicken the goulash sauce slightly.

10. Allow to cook for a further 15 minutes before turning off the heat. Leave the goulash to cool down slightly before serving. If serving later, allow to cool down completely before chilling.

11. Garnish the goulash with some fresh parsley and serve the goulash with some boiled potatoes, gluten-free bread dumplings and/or gluten-free Semmel bread rolls.

  • Makes 8 to 10 servings
  • Keeps for 4 days chilled
  • Suitable to freeze

Gluten-Free Dumplings (Servittenknödel)

Ingredients:
  • 200g stale gluten-free Kaiser bread rolls, cut in cubes or store-bought gluten-free bread cubes (Semmelwürfen)
  • 280 ml milk, lukewarm
  • 1 onion, chopped finely
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 whole egg
  • Preparation time: 40 minutes (including 30 minutes of bread soaking)
  • Cooking time: 20 minutes
  • Cooling down time: 20 minutes

1 . Pour the lukewarm milk over the bread cubes in a large bowl. Mix well and allow to soak for 30 minutes.

2. Heat the butter in a large, wide pan and add the onions. Fry for several minutes, or until translucent.

3. Add the onions to the bread cubes as well as the parsley, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

4. Separate the two eggs. Add the egg yolks and the remaining whole egg to the bread mixture.

5. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the bread mixture until thoroughly incorporated.

6. Lay out a clean light coloured tea towel and dip your hands in cold water to mould the dumpling into a log shape measuring approximately 24cm by 7cm.

7. Continue wetting your hands in the cold water to smooth the dumpling log before rolling it up snugly and twisting the ends, using an elastic band or kitchen string to tie them securely.

8. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add the dumpling gently to the water, pushing it in carefully or slightly bending it if it is too long.

9. Lower the heat and simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes.

10. Lift the dumpling out and place it on a plate to cool down for 20 minutes before carefully unwrapping it from the tea towel.

11. Allow to cool down more if it feels too hot to handle. With a large knife, cut the dumpling into 5cm thick slices and arrange them on a serving platter. Cover if serving later. Reheat in the microwave or oven until heated through.

  • Makes 8 to 10 servings
  • Keeps for 4 days chilled
  • Freezes well in slices

Speed up the goulash cooking time by using a high-pressure cooker or an Instant Pot. Select the meat casserole setting which is usually at 35 minutes on High.

Alternatively, prepare the goulash the night before and pour the goulash into a slow cooker/crockpot to cook overnight on LOW for 9 to 10 hours. This may over tenderise the beef to a falling-apart stage so only choose this setting if you don’t mind this consistency, otherwise slow cook for only 7 to 8 hours.