Hanging Out in Rockford: Paprikas (Pap-ri-kash) and the moon—part one

I was so knocked out by the food in Hungary that I decided to make an attempt at a new dish from there. Gulyas (or goulash in English) is the national dish. Gulyas is actually a soup, not a stew, but there are various soup and stew-type dishes that have the same basic beginning. The base is derived from paprika—not the namby-pamby paprika we sprinkle on cottage cheese to make it pretty (and which is pretty much devoid of any real flavor), but real paprika that is slightly smoked and still has much of the hotness from the peppers from which it is derived. Paprika in Hungary means peppers, or what the Mexicans call chile.

I want to make a dish with venison shanks because I have had some hanging out in my freezer for a while, and I want to use them up. I bought them for a client, and didn’t use them all. I was inspired by the venison gulyas I ate in Kaposvár with my son and Sándor, the mayor of Taszár, and I want to try to recreate it. I also want to serve it with galuska, the Hungarian noodles that are like spaetzle and, for that, we will need a new kitchen tool.

First, I must obtain the right kind of paprika. I call Cornille in the international produce market. Tom Cornille answers the phone. He says he doesn’t know if he has it or not, and that his guy who handles the spices is off for the day. But he offers to look for it himself. I tell him I will be in the market anyway, and if he has it, to pull it for me. Alas, when I get there, he doesn’t.

I search my mind for suppliers who will carry that kind of item. I call Quality because they have a huge selection of dried herbs and spices—but no such luck. Then, I call Maloney on Fulton because they carry a lot of specialty items—but no luck there, either. I call Hauser at Chicago Game, and she says that while usually she carries it, they are temporarily out of stock—but she suggests N & G Produce on West Randolph. Finally, at N & G, I hit paydirt.

Armed with my real paprika, I pick up 40 pounds of chicken bones at Economy. I want to cook the galuska in fresh, real chicken stock. I think this will add a lot to their goodness. Back in Rockford, I go looking for a food mill or potato ricer. I start at World Market. The woman working the register looks at me like I have green hair. I say something about being in a town where no one cooks. She says she doesn’t cook. Then, I go to the place next to Best Buy (I can’t remember the name, and why should I?), but no food mill there, either. Finally, I find one at Bed Bath & Beyond for only $29.95.

Back in Rockford, I turn it over to my culinary school-trained, part-time cook, Michael McKillips. But we need a recipe, and for that, I go online. I find literally dozens of recipes portending to be real Hungarian “goulash” recipes, but something I heard in Hungary about there being no flour or tomatoes in real gulyas keeps sticking in my mind, and one by one I reject them.

That night, I send an e-mail outlining my plight to my son in Budapest. The next morning, I am greeted by a return, saying, “try this,” and giving me the following address: http://chiliesvanilia.blogspot.com/2006/01/my-authentic-hungarian-goulash-recipe.html.

More next week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

from the July 25-31, 2007, issue

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