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

I am endeavoring to copy a recipe for Hungarian gulyas similar to the gulyas we ate with Sándor, the mayor of Taszár, near Kaposvár in southern Hungary. I have obtained all the proper ingredients and enlisted the help of Mike McKillips, my part-time, culinary school-trained cook. My son Drew has sent us a Web site address from Hungary, http://chiliesvanilia.blogspot.com/2006/01/my-authentic-hungarian-goulash-recipe.html. The Web site fortunately posts in English as well as Magyar, the Hungarian language.

First, the site attempts to set a few things straight. In the U.S., we think of “goulash” as a thick stew, usually with a lot of thick tomato sauce. (There is actually only a small amount of tomato or none at all in authentic recipes. The source here states that if you cannot find a really good tomato, just leave it out. The final result is more like a chile Colorado than a tomato-based stew.)

Gulyas is actually a soup. Pörkölt is the stew that can be made with all kinds of beef, chicken, pork or even fish. I decide against calling my dish pörkölt since I am going to use whole venison shank pieces and not cut-up pieces of meat as is conjured by the idea of a stew. Further on, it discusses paprikas and notes it is famous as chicken paprikas but that the base is exactly the same for all the different dishes but that they vary in thickness of the sauce. I decide to call our dish Venison Shank Paprikas.

Then, I turn it over to Mike. I give him the e-mail recipe and the shanks and some fresh garden peppers that I am able to find at the 320 Store. Dennis is doing duty when I ask him about Hungarian-style peppers for the paprikas, and he offers some home-grown ones from the garden of Dick Zander. They look lovely and similar to the ones pictured on the e-mailed site.

I go upstairs to watch television news and take a break. I am having one of those “escape the public” times. I don’t feel like being around people. I guess you might diagnose me as bipolar. I either really like being around people, or I absolutely detest it. I have learned to stay away at times like these. Later, I stop downstairs, and Mike asks me to assist him with the galuska. The dough is too thick to go through the machine. I throw a clump of it into the food processor and thin it down to the consistency of double cream. This change works instantly, and the noodles are delicious. I have Molly Fleming, the world traveler, taste them, and she pronounces them perfect.

I go back upstairs. Mike calls me, worried about the venison shanks. He is concerned because they have been cooking for a while and don’t seem to be getting tender. I reassure him we have used them before and to just keep them in the oven. Finally, he calls me to tell me they are done, and they are fabulous. He asks that I come down and talk to the girls about the new entrée. I tell him I am having one of my times when I need to be alone and ask him to carry the ball since it was he who prepared the dish. He is more than capable. It’s nice having competent people you can count on.

I stay upstairs. I stay upstairs and watch bad television. I stay upstairs and sulk. I don’t want to go downstairs because I know if I do, I will drink, and I have been eating a vegetarian diet and trying not to drink at all to lose weight. The next morning, after I settle the business from the night before, I am hungry, and I am looking for company to go to breakfast. I call my friend Summer. “Was it a full moon?” I ask my friend Summer the next morning. “No,” she says, “it was a crescent, but it sure felt like a full moon.”

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 Aug 1-7, 2007, issue

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