It was my dad's choice for birthday suppers, always
As a kid, I remember her cooking up what seemed to be an enormous beef roast (there were 8 kids to feed!), big marrow bone and all. When the meat was nice and tender, she would pull out that marrow bone, make some toast, and gather us around like little chicks to share this treat...yep, marrow on toast, lightly salted and cut into bite sized portions. You may be horrified, but trust me, this was old world luxury! We didn't know any better, it was perfectly normal and so richly delicious! So imagine when many years later, as I thumbed through the pages of Gourmet Magazine, there it was, in a full centerfold spread of fore-running "food porn" glory, a sumptuous table that featured Bone Marrow on Toast! That's when I knew it...that although I thought I had been raised on peasant food, and the bizarre fare of common country folk, my mom had through the years introduced us to the high cuisine of her kindred culture and generations gone by. I was beyond blessed!
Vadas Hús (pronounced "vudush hoosh"), is a type of pot roast, best prepared with a boned and tied chuck roast. In signature Hungarian style, paprika will always play an important role, whether you choose sweet or smoked, and the addition here of a bit of vinegar adds a slight essential tang. But the unique characteristic of this dish is this amazingly piquant sauce that bathes buttery tender cuts of meat in rich bliss. It is a simple puree of the simmering liquid and it's vegetables...carrots and all! While most sauces have a bad reputation for fatty richness, this one owes it's body and texture to the vegetables, carrots being the major redemptive player, that are pureed right into it all! Come on now...that's a sauce we can live with!
As with any classic recipe passed through the generations, particular ingredients and methods may vary, depending on who is doing the cooking. As I considered the ingredient list and questioned whether to call for red wine vinegar or simple white vinegar, plain water or beef stock, I was reminded that back when my mom was doing the cooking and life was very simple, fancier ingredients were not even an option. Her use of the most basic pantry ingredients produced an amazing and memorable dish...why tamper with greatness! And while she loaded everything into a plain pot and simmered it slowly on the stove, I opt for a slow cooker which eliminates the need for constant monitoring. But you can choose which way works best for you.
The dumplings that are classic to this dish, and pictured here, raise the bar for comfort food lovers everywhere. In the interest of less gluten and greater virtue, I usually serve this with potatoes, gluten free Nokedli or pasta, or rice (which pales in comparison). But here, since Steve was in town, we cast off restraint and went for all the glutenous gusto! They are called Zsemle Gomboc; we will call them crouton dumplings, because that's what they are. And in the interest of getting this blog out, I will supply the recipe later.
Special thanks to my wonderful son Steve, whose hands you see in these images. As with all three of our kids, every time he comes home, the request is for some unctuous Hungarian dinner for which I require hands on help, and he is more than happy to oblige. He has become quite the cook, boasting an impressive multicultural repertoire. Thanks for the help Steve! Your hands are beautiful!
One 3-4 pound boned and tied chuck roast (if you have the bone, add it to the simmer!)
2 Tbsp oil, for searing the meat
1 large onion, chopped
4 ribs celery, large chopped
4-5 large carrots, large chopped
2 Tbsp Hungarian paprika, sweet or smoked
2 bay leafs
3 Tbsp vinegar, may be white vinegar or red wine vinegar
Salt and Pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp ground cloves (optional, but I really like this!)
1 cup red wine (optional)
3-4 cups water or beef stock
3 Tbsp flour, to thicken sauce
Salt and pepper the roast. In a large pot, heat the oil. Sear the meat on all sides and place into a slow cooker, or set on a plate.
In the same pot, add all the vegetables, the bay leaf and the paprika, cooking for about a minute just to open the paprika flavor, being careful not to burn the paprika. Remove from heat and add the vinegar with a bit of water just to deglaze the pan. Add the ground cloves if desired. Pour it all into the slow cooker over the meat. (Or place the seared roast back into the pot) Add the liquids of choice (water, stock and wine), enough to come 3/4 of the way up the roast. Add salt and pepper. Cover and set slow cooker for 6-8 hours on low or 6 hours on high.
When the roast is very soft on the fork, remove from liquid, place on a cutting board and cover with foil while making the sauce. Remove the bay leaves from the liquid. In a small jar, make a slurry with the flour and 1/3 cup water, cover the jar and shake well. Pour all the cooking liquid with the vegetables, from the slow cooker into a separate pot to thicken it. Bring the cooking liquid and vegetables to a simmer, add the slurry and whisk. Cook until thickened. The liquid part of the mix should be as thick as cream. Simmer for a few minutes. Adjust the seasoning by adding salt and pepper if needed, and a bit more vinegar if needed. Remove from heat.
Back to the roast: Remove the string and slice the meat as cleanly as you can (without shredding it please!), and place it into a serving vessel large enough to hold the meat and the sauce.
Back to the Sauce: If you have a stick blender, puree the sauce in the pot, vegetables and all, into a gorgeous silky gravy. (Adjust salt and pepper and add a touch more vinegar if needed, to taste.) If you only have a regular blender, blend all the thickened vegetables and sauce in small batches and pour over the meat. With all the sauce poured over the sliced roast, you are ready to cover it and keep it warm in the oven while preparing the accompanying dumplings, potatoes or pasta.
Serve over said choice of carb' and add a generous dollop of sour cream if desired. You can be happy that the sauce includes a whole serving of veggies...yay!!!