Cooking Wild Recipe: Venison Goulash

Venison Goulash: Bring home traditional, hearty Hungarian cuisine with this wonderful recipe.

There are hundreds of recipes for plain old goulash but many of them, especially North American versions, are not even faintly similar to the real deal — authentic Hungarian goulash (spelled gulyas in its homeland) which is, without doubt, one of the world’s most popular stews.

Goulash was created by Magyar plainsmen who were cooking it in iron pots over crackling campfires for as far back as history dates so it’s a well-suited pick for any camp stewpot. And whether it’s made from fresh bagged game or a package of last year’s frozen venison packed into the pannier especially for the purpose, the meal is always a winner in camp — and on the home-front.

The prominent ingredient in goulash is paprika, which is used in Hungarian cuisine more than any other spice and is one of the country’s major exports. Many paprika connoisseurs (including myself) consider Hungarian paprika to be the best on the market.

Hungarian paprika can be bought where exotic spices are sold but if you can’t find it, choose a packaged paprika rather than buying it in bulk as bin paprika may be inferior due to being exposed to light and air. Store it in a cool, dark place to prevent fading.

Paprika is made from dried ground red peppers and in Hungary there are six different heat levels ranging from sweet (regular paprika) to hot (cayenne). Sweet is the most commonly used paprika and the one called for in this recipe.

A Dutch-oven is the traditional pot for cooking goulash in as cast-iron holds and distributes heat evenly and is the only pot that can stand up to the intense heat of a campfire. Of course, on the home range where heat can be controlled, any stewpot will do.

My prized recipe was handed-down to me from my Hungarian mother-in-law who claims that in her country it’s against the law to make goulash using any fat other than homemade pork lard! But if your diet shuns it, shortening or oil can be used.

More words of my mother-in-law’s wisdom — don’t skimp on onions, use lots of garlic, make sure you don’t scorch the paprika and, above all else, use top quality meat. This puts me “one up” on her for I usually have a stash of fine venison meat in my freezer to call upon when a goulash craving strikes whereas she has to go the butcher shop for meat as big game hunting in her country is a privilege enjoyed by few!

The most cherished compliment my mother-in-law ever gave me was that my venison goulash was one of the best she’d ever tasted. It doesn’t get any better than that!

The oldest way in the book to serve it is with a thick hunk of bread for getting up the rich gravy. It is also delicious ladled over homemade egg dumplings (recipe below) or rice. Or cubed potatoes can be added to the pot towards the end of cooking time. For Hungarian flair, twirl a dab of sour cream into each bowl upon serving. Serves six to eight.

Hungarian Goulash

  • 3 pounds stew-cut venison meat (moose, deer, elk)
  • 3 tablespoons fat
  • 4 or 5 chopped onions
  • 1 sweet pepper
  • 6 cloves peeled minced garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon caraway seeds bruised with the flat side of a heavy knife (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons paprika
  • 5 cups warm water

Heat the fat in Dutch-oven, sauté onions until glossy. Add venison, pepper and garlic, sauté 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper and caraway seeds. Remove kettle from heat, add paprika and stir until absorbed. Add water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer two to three hours or until goulash is thick. Do not add additional water unless necessary to keep from going too dry (which may be the case when campfire cooking).

Egg Dumplings

Put two cups flour in bowl. Break in three eggs, mix well with a fork. Add enough cold water to make stiff workable dough. Pinch off dough and roll into bite-sized balls. When all are formed, drop into boiling water and cook until balls rise to the surface. Drain, sprinkle with parsley. In camp I use a bit of shredded clover or dandelion greens in place of parsley.

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