Bográcsgulyás (“cauldron-goulash”) is considered the archetype of goulash. It is a simple dish, made with no more than beef, paprika, onions, potatoes an caraway seed. The “bogrács” stands for the cooking gear in which the cowherds, the gulyás, prepared their chow: a cauldron on a tripod over an open fire. The cowherds don’t really exist any more, except as a tourist attraction. The cauldrons, however, have never left. Cooking goulash over an open fire in the outdoors is still a favourite pastime, with friends, neighbours and family, just like we have our summer barbecue. Not only in Hungary, but also in neighbouring countries like Slovakia it is a beloved social occasion. Competitions in making goulash in this traditional way are also pretty popular. According to the purists, a real, genuine, original goulash is prepared in the open air, in a cauldron over a fire. The simplest -and purest- way goes like this: you put the cubed meat, chopped onions and plenty of cold water in the pot. Wait till it comes to a boil, season it with salt, a fistful of caraway seeds and a few spoonfuls of sweet paprika. Add some crumbled hot peppers for spiciness and let it simmer until the meat is tender. When the meat is almost done, add the potatoes.
In our kitchen, we are going to do this slightly differently. The most common recipe is to first sear the beef and the onions in lard seperately, then sprinkle it with paprika and only then add the (hot) water. By searing the meat and heating the paprika in the lard, the stew gains enormously in flavour, while the fried onions will fall apart during simmering and will provide a sweet, silky sauce.
Chop the onions and cook them on a low heat in 2 – 3 tbsp. lard (or oil). Cut the meat in 5 x 5 cm. (2 x 2 in.) cubes. When the onions become translucent, increase the heat. Add the cubes of beef and stir-fry them quickly until browned. Take the pot from the stove and mix in the paprika. Quench it immediately with hot water, enough to cover the meat liberally. Bring it to a boil and reduce the heat. Season with caraway and some salt and let it simmer until the meat is starting to get tender. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut them lengthwise in four. Add them to the pot and let it simmer for half an hour more, until the potatoes are done and the meat is tender.