Friday, January 12, 2007

Meatball Goulash

Adapted from Delia's Winter Collection by Delia Smith

In America those of us who cook are familiar with Nigella Lawson and Diana Henry - with good reason - and I love them too; but I never fail to be surprised that only the most die-hard Anglophile in the US knows who Delia Smith is. Her in-depth How to Cook is excellent for anyone who has an interest in traditional English food. 

The recipe here is adapted from Delia's Winter CollectionDon't let the long list of ingredients and detailed instructions put you off this recipe; it's long because I describe what I do in detail. This dish is delicious and can be prepared in advance so it's a go-to dinner party recipe for me. No one complains even when they have it for a second time. 

I brown the meatballs in a 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet, but when I make the sauce the meatballs will finish cooking in, I use a 13-inch All Clad Stainless Steel Brasier. Be sure to make the sauce in a pan that will hold the meatballs in one layer.

Meatball Goulash
Adapted from Delia's Winter Collection by Delia Smith

Serves 6 (4 with leftovers)

Note: It is hard to find authentic Hungarian, rather than Hungarian-style, paprika. I order mine from Kalustyan's. It's also available from The Spice House. Although I usually use a mix of ground beef and ground pork, this recipe works well with ground turkey or ground chicken. If you use poultry, ground dark meat is the best, and you may have to use more than 2 ounces of breadcrumbs because ground poultry can be very moist. I make the sauce first so that when the meatballs are browned, the sauce is done enough to put them in. I specify peanut rather than olive oil because that is what I use in my kitchen as a neutral vegetable oil. Use the neutral oil of your choosing. I use my own chicken stock made from Smitten Kitchen's recipe for Uncluttered Chicken Stock, which I make using the slow cook function of my Instant Pot, a recipe worth adding to your repertoire.

Ingredients for the Sauce

1 large onion
3 tablespoons (or more if needed) of peanut oil
2 green peppers cut into chunks
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce (I use Muir Glen)
1 to 1¼ cups chicken stock
1 to 2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika (I always use 2)
Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for the Meatballs

1 pound of lean ground beef and 1 pound of ground pork
1 small onion, very finely minced or grated (I use a Microplane Medium Ribbon Grater, which works in both directions to grate the onion; that way you have the juice and flavor of the onion without perceptible pieces.)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 ounces plain dry breadcrumbs, 4C brand preferred
2 large eggs, beaten
Wondra flour seasoned with a little hot Hungarian paprika or a little cayenne pepper to dredge the meatballs in
A little salt
A little pepper
Peanut oil for browning the meatballs

Ingredients to Finish the Dish

Sour cream or crème fraîche or heavy cream

Preparation of the Sauce

Cook the chopped onion in oil until it turns pale gold. Do not let it brown. Add the chunks of green pepper, and cook for another minute or two. Then add the sweet Hungarian paprika, and cook for a minute more, just enough to cook the paprika so that it releases its fragrance but not so long that it burns. I call this step blooming the  paprika.

Add the tomato sauce and stir, and then add the chicken broth. I swish the chicken broth in the tomato sauce can before I add it to the pan. Stirring occasionally, heat the sauce till it comes to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Season with salt, but be careful if you have used tomato sauce or broth seasoned with salt. Cook for about 20 minutes before adding the meatballs.

Preparation of the Meatballs

Put the meat, onion, parsley, and breadcrumbs in a large bowl. Mix well, and then add the beaten eggs and a little seasoning of salt and pepper. Combine everything together with your hands. If you are using poultry, you may have to add additional breadcrumbs because the ground chicken or turkey is usually very moist. Shape into meatballs. You can use a small cookie dough dropper if you have one that's the right size to portion the meat, which you then roll with your hands to make the meatballs. The one I use has a 1-1/2-inch diameter. The less you handle the meat, and the less you pack it, the more tender the meatballs will be.

Coat each meatball lightly with the seasoned Wondra flour, and place on a plate until all the meatballs are rolled.

Heat the oil, and brown the meatballs lightly - you don't want to form a thick crust. As you go along, transfer the meatballs to a clean plate.

Cooking the Meatballs in the Sauce

Add the browned meatballs to the pan with the sauce. Bring back to a low simmer, and cover with a lid. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, long enough for the meatballs to be cooked through. Check every now and then to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. If you can't get the flame low enough, you may have to use a heat diffuser.

The sauce will thicken to a nice consistency because the meatballs were lightly dredged in flour before they were browned.

Finishing the Dish with Sour Cream or Heavy Cream or Crème Fraîche

Turn off the heat, and stir 3 tablespoons room temperature sour cream into the sauce to get a marbled effect. This marbling effect is lovely, and the sour cream adds a nice tang to the dish.

However, I have to tell you something about the sour cream step.

Since I don't love how the leftovers heat up with the sour cream in the sauce because it can get grainy, and since I serve individual plates, unless I know I'm not going to have leftovers, I often plate each dish and then top each serving of the meatball goulash with a little sour cream. This allows each diner to stir it in to get the requisite marbled effect.

Crème fraîche has almost the same tangy effect as sour cream without the danger of curdling.

You can also use heavy cream instead of sour cream since there is no danger it will curdle. It doesn't really change the taste much, and it does lighten the color of the sauce.

Microplane Medium Ribbon Grater
This dish is good served with buttered spaetzle, buttered peas or green beans, and cucumber salad with a sour cream dressing. I serve the cucumber salad on the same large white plate with the other food because I like the way it tastes all eaten together.

Buttered egg noodles also work well in place of the spaetzle, and DeCecco egg noodles are especially good.

My wine choice would be a Grüner Veltliner, and a good dessert is a plum torte - especially this one from Marian Burros. 

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