Friday, January 12, 2007

Meatball Goulash

Adapted from Delia's Winter Collection by Delia Smith

Here in America we are all enthusiastically familiar with Nigella Lawson and Diana Henry, with good reason, and I love them too. But I am surprised that only the most die-hard Anglophile knows who Delia Smith, another English cookery book author, is. 

I recommend that you check out some of her books. Her How to Cook is excellent for accomplished cooks as well as beginners, especially if you have an interest in traditional English food. This recipe is adapted from Delia's Winter Collection

Don't let the long list of ingredients and detailed instructions put you off this recipe. It isn't complicated; it's long because I describe what I do in minute detail. It is a favorite dinner party recipe of mine. Everyone loves it, and I can have it ready in advance.

When you make the sauce, you should use a pan that has a lid and is large enough to hold the meatballs in one layer. I use a 6-3/4 quart Le Creuset Wide French Oven.

or a 13-inch All Clad Stainless Steel Braiser. Unfortunately, the last time I checked, this pan was out of production.

Note 1: It is hard to find authentic Hungarian, rather than Hungarian-style, paprika. I order mine from Kalustyan's.

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

Serves 6 (4 with leftovers)

Ingredients for the Sauce

1 large onion or 1½ medium onions, chopped (If using 1½ medium onions, you will use the other half of the second onion in the meatballs.)
3 tablespoons (or more if needed) of peanut or olive oil
2 green peppers cut into chunks
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce (I use Muir Glen)
1 to 1¼ cups chicken stock (I use my own from Smitten Kitchen.)
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, preferably grass fed, and 1 pound of ground pork
(You can also make this recipe with turkey or with chicken; if you use poultry, ground dark meat is the best.)
A little less than 1/2 of the large onion left over from the sauce or 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 (I use these instead of panko.)
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
Grapeseed, peanut, or olive 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 olive 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

In a large bowl place the meat, onion, parsley, and breadcrumbs. Mix well, and then add the eggs and a little seasoning of salt and pepper. Using your hands, combine everything together. If you are using poultr, you may have to add additional breadcrumbs because the ground chicken is usually very moist. Shape into meatballs.  You can use a small ice cream scoop or cookie dough dropper if you have one that's the right size to portion the meatballs. The one I use has a 1-1/2-inch diameter. I believe it would be one that holds 1-1/2 tablespoons.  The small size of the meatballs makes it easy to roll them without handling them too much; 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 flour, and place on a plate until all the meatballs are done.

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 35 to 40 minutes, checking 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.

I have completely forgotten to add the sour cream a few times (yes, more than once), and the dish is still wonderful.

Also, 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, and it's delicious.

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 - this one from Marian Burros or any other you have in your repertoire. 

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