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Why does my goulash taste sweet?

DeppityDawg Mar 20, 2008 12:36 PM

I made a big pot of goulash last night, pretty standard recipe with beef, onions, tomatoes (from a tin), garlic, and lots of hot paprika. And it turned out sweet! I mean sweet tasting. I just tasted the paprika on its own: not sweet. Could it be the caraway? I put in about a tablespoon of whole seeds (for 3 pounds of meat and liquid to cover). But does caraway add sugar-like sweetness? I just chewed some seeds and I can't really tell. Maybe. I mentioned this to a Hungarian colleague today, who shrugged and said, "Why are you asking me about goulash?" Oops.

Anyway, I am reheating now, and adding a good handful of salt to correct the flavor. I figure if I add too much salt, I can always add the magical raw potatoes to absorb the excess, right?

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  1. JungMann RE: DeppityDawg Mar 20, 2008 12:48 PM

    Both the onions and tomatoes contain a fair amount of natural sugars, and depending on the tinned variety, you might have had sugar added to your tomatoes. Caramelizing either would have highlighted those natural flavors. Caraway adds its own distinct, savory flavor. Rather than just dump salt into the dish, I would try to balance the flavors with some acid (I usually add a splash of red wine vinegar to goulash) and some added heat from hot paprika or cayenne.

    1. s
      Springhaze2 RE: DeppityDawg Mar 20, 2008 01:14 PM

      I also suggest adding a splash of red wine vinegar.

      1. DockPotato RE: DeppityDawg Mar 20, 2008 03:22 PM

        DD, the tomatoes don't live there. I asume you're going for the stew rather than the soup. If so, try this:


        2 lbs beef in 1 inch cubes;

        2 large cooking onions diced very, very fine by hand;

        2 tbs, more or less, lard, bacon fat - else other oil;

        2 tbs, more or less, sweet Hungarian paprika.

        2 cloves, more or less, garlic - smooshed;

        12 bruised peppercorns, more or less;

        Salt to taste.

        Sautee the onions in the fat on medium high for a few minutes untill they are just transluscent and slightly limp - about 5 minutes or less.

        Add the paprika and stir quicklyfor a few seonds till incorporated - about 30 seconds. Add the beef and stir to coat the beef with the sauce. Keep stirring until the beef is slightly browned on all sides, and then add just enough hot water to barely cover the beef while stirring all the while.

        Add the garlic, peppercorns and any options: bruised carrawy seeds; fresh or dried parsley, hot paprika or cayenne.

        Let all this go on a slow simmer, stirring often, until the meat is done - about an hour maybe, adjust salt as you go - less is better but should be in cooking. The juice will thicken and intensify in flavour - go for flavour, not thickness. Adjust water as you go.

        Taste as you go without guilt.

        1 Reply
        1. re: DockPotato
          Springhaze2 RE: DockPotato Mar 20, 2008 03:38 PM

          I agree, there are lots of variations on goulash and the traditional Hungarian recipes do not add tomatoes. But Dawg was looking for a fix for a dish he/she already made that included tomatoes. I am from Hungarian descent and I happen to love goulash cooked with or without tomatoes.

          Aside from my comment above to add some vinegar, another way to add some more savory notes is with a little rosemary. This is more a German adaptation, but with the vinegar might give you the results you are looking for.

          Also are you planning to add sour cream? There are two camps on that as well. Some people stir in sour cream at the end and others just use if for a garnish. If you stir it in, it helps to balance the flavors after you have added some vinegar to a dish that is currently too sweet.

          I agree with the other poster who said that the sweetness is probably from your tomatoes. Buy imported or organic tomatoes with nothing added in the future.

        2. d
          DeppityDawg RE: DeppityDawg Mar 20, 2008 05:06 PM

          Thanks for everyone's opinions. I checked the tomatoes and tomato paste: no added sugar. I should mention also that a while ago I made some braised veal — with no tomatoes — that also I also found unexpectedly sweet. At the time I figured it was the onions and carrots, but there were also lots of caraway seeds in that recipe. So maybe my taste buds interpret the flavor of caraway in slow-cooked dishes as sweet (in addition to the, you know, caraway flavor).

          Tonight's portion with more salt and paprika was much better. Tomorrow I will try the vinegar suggestion. And I will probably get more adventurous and experimental with the remaining leftovers this weekend. But don't worry: I will stop calling it "goulash" by that point.

          1 Reply
          1. re: DeppityDawg
            Nyleve RE: DeppityDawg Mar 20, 2008 06:52 PM

            My pathologically Hungarian mother used to go absolutely ape-sh*t if any meat dish turned out the least bit sweet. This was total anathema to her palate and she could detect a molecule of sweetness at a hundred paces. I lived in mortal fear of her outbursts should I happen to overstep her very rigid boundaries. She would have added sauerkraut - even just the juice if nothing else - to the goulash to correct the sweetness. This is what I suggest as a traumatized daughter of a narrow-minded Hungarian cook.

            God forbid if she should ever encounter Polish-style cabbage rolls. And let's not even discuss duck a l'orange.

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