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Paprika-Braised Short Ribs with Pinched Butter Dumplings (Csipetke)

We ditched the word goulash and got out of the way.

6 main dish portions


Day 1: About 4 hours to make the braise; Day 2: About 1½ hours to make the dumplings, finish the braise, and prepare the garnishes


We wanted to call this phenomenal short rib braise “Hungarian Goulash,” containing, as it does, an abundance of the anticipated elements: rich, paprika-spiked gravy in tones of Venetian red; tender pieces of beef; little hand-rolled noodle-dumplings whose name contains a string of improbably arranged consonants; caraway; peppers. But the word “goulash,” despite its familiar and comforting ring was not, ultimately, worth the aggravation. Few people agree, apparently, on what constitutes an authentic goulash—and everyone is hopping mad about it, anyway. Many of the most strident opinions issue from Americans, who wouldn’t recognize a diacritical mark if one fell into their cereal. (Pass the double acutes, please.) After pointing out, rightly, that goulash takes its color from paprika rather than tomatoes, these very blogs show a mound of diced sweet bell peppers sliding off a cutting board into a pot. That’s when we click away.

I (Kay) thought I had gotten to know goulash by proximity, at least, living and working in Berlin years ago. The city boasted a sizeable Hungarian population and Hungarian eateries. Even little on fleek restaurants like those I worked in—practitioners of so-called new German Cuisine—frequently topped their patrons’ evenings with small, steaming-hot bowls of Goulaschsuppe intended to sober diners up and get them home safely. These Goulaschsuppen featured robust deep-red broths of medium body, pieces of braised beef, and a flavor composite as complex as any first-rate chili. They were served with sour cream and chopped gherkins, and bore none of a stew’s predictable interlocutors such as potatoes or carrots. Late-night revelers gobbled it up like there was no tomorrow.

Hungarians themselves express considerably wide-ranging views on the goulash. Their word for it, gulyás, is frequently seen in the company of modifiers used to denote the presence or absence of ingredients like potatoes or vegetables. But gulyás, we discovered, isn’t a stew at all. It is brothy—a soup. Yes, Goulaschsuppe. Goulash in stew form is called pörkölt. Paprikás is a fricassee made with veal or chicken, and is permitted to enjoy a garnish of sour cream.

A minefield.

We resolved to honor Ottoman and Hapsburg influences that formed Hungary’s exotic culinary stratum and classic flavors in a hearty wintry braise—beginning with an outright acknowledgment that gulyás and pörkölt aren’t interested in anyone’s preconceived notions of the traditional flavors or ingredients of a beef stew.

For us, the product of this overthinking is a rich, moody stew that begins with a stock deft enough to support distant notes of dry red wine and a liberal draught of sweet and hot paprika. For beef, we braised short ribs, which know no peer for tenderness and flavor. And allium, of course—we used shallots. Hungary grows an astonishing array of pepper cultivars, but pörkölt sings not with bell pepper sweetness. To complement and brighten the paprika in this braise, we used the closest thing we could find to the famous Hungarian wax pepper, rings of floral and spicy-hot banana pepper sautéed with a sizzle of butter-toasted caraway seed garnish. A dollop of sour cream—though some may impugn its addition—pulls this exotic profile dramatically into focus. These are deep echo-y flavors. But wait, we nearly forgot: the famous Hungarian soup dumpling, csipetke, represents the best part of this dish! Small, rolled, pinched and butter-tender semolina dumplings that will be the easiest hand-wrought noodle or dumpling you have ever made: sweet and delicious, a perfect addition to a stew—and so much more satisfying than potatoes.

Cooking Remarks

A good braise depends on flavor depth, and flavor depth depends on a multi-phased cooking approach. We use a compound stock for this recipe: the first, wrested from meaty beef bones becomes a stock, and then, enter the short ribs. Don’t be tempted to use commercial “stock.” Just don’t.

Reserve the fat skimmed from the surface of the stock to brown the short ribs.

Paprika is clearly the big star of the dish. Its freshness is paramount. Many recipes will say to use only Hungarian paprika, but if that product isn’t fresh, there’s no point. Ditto the caraway. We purchased sweet and hot paprika, as well as caraway seeds, from The Spice House in Madison, WI.

Hungarian wax or banana peppers contribute a floral spiciness to this stew, which greatly enhances its appeal, in our opinion. Don’t be tempted to substitute chopped bell peppers—their sweetness is incompatible with the overall gestalt of the dish. Shaved sweet onion and chopped dill pickles make a delicious stand-in for the wax or banana peppers.

equipment mise en place

For the braise, you will need parchment paper, a large Dutch oven, a rimmed baking sheet, storage containers for the cooked beef and the braising liquid, and a large saucepan for reheating the braise.

For the dumplings, you will need a digital kitchen scale, two small bowls, a whisk, a metal bench knife, a rimmed baking sheet, parchment paper, a ruler, a large pot, and a colander.

To prepare the garnishes and serve, you will need a small saucepan and six warmed shallow serving bowls.

  • for the braise:

    • 5
      pounds English-style beef short ribs
    • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 2
      tablespoons fat skimmed from the beef stock
    • cups minced shallot (5 or 6 large shallots)
    • 2
      tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (½ ounce) sweet paprika
    • 2
      tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (½ ounce) hot paprika
    • cups medium-bodied, fairly young red wine with good fruit and minerality, such as Malbec
    • 1
  • for the dumplings:

  • for serving:

    • tablespoons unsalted butter
    • 1
      tablespoon caraway seeds
    • Fine sea salt
    • 5
      (5-inch) Hungarian wax peppers or 3 (8-inch) banana peppers, seeded, sliced into thin rounds, blanched for 5 seconds, and drained well OR 1 small sweet onion, shaved into rounds
    • Sour cream

    Begin the braise: Adjust the rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Cut a round of parchment paper that is of the same diameter as the inside of the 8-quart Dutch oven you will use to prepare the braise. Dry the short ribs well with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. 


    In a large Dutch oven, warm the beef fat over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pot, brown the short ribs well on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes per batch; transfer them to a rimmed baking sheet as they are browned (fig. 2.1). After all the ribs have been browned, reduce the heat to low, add the shallot to the pot, and cook, stirring frequently and scraping up any browned bits from the beef, until fragrant and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, sweet paprika, and hot paprika. Increase the heat to medium and bring to a simmer (fig. 2.2), scraping the bottom of the pot. Pour in the warm stock and bring the mixture to a simmer. Return the short ribs to the pan (fig. 2.3), pour in any accumulated juices, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Press the parchment paper round directly against surface of the braise, cover with the lid, and cook in the oven until the beef is falling-off-the-bone tender (a metal skewer slides easily into and out of the meat), about 2½ hours. 


    Remove the pot from the oven, uncover, and let stand until the meat is cool enough to handle, about 1 hour. With tongs, transfer the ribs from the braising liquid to a large bowl. Working with one rib at a time, remove and discard the bone. Shred the meat into bite-size pieces, discarding any tough connective tissue and egregiously large pieces of fat (leave smaller bits of fat in place for flavor). Transfer the meat to an airtight container and seal well. Pour the braising liquid through a mesh strainer into a separate container (you should have about 4 cups) and cover tightly. Refrigerate the meat and braising liquid until well chilled, at least 3 hours or for up to 3 days.


    About 1 hour before serving, make the dumplings: Turn the emmer, pastry flour and ½ teaspoon salt into a small bowl and whisk well. In a second small bowl, whisk together the egg and melted butter, then whisk in the sparkling water. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir with a wooden spoon and stir until a very soft dough forms, about 10 seconds; the dough will be very sticky to start but will become less so as it hydrates. Lightly flour your work surface, turn the dough out onto it, and knead it a couple of times. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.


    Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle it with flour. Flour your work surface once again. Turn the dough out onto it and form the dough into a smooth, slightly flattened log (fig. 5.1); the dough will be quite moist. Wtih a metal bench knife, cut it in half. Working with half the dough, pinch off 2-gram (½-teaspoon) bits with your fingers. Form each bit of dough into a lozenge shape about 1 inch in length (fig. 5.2) and drop it onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. Using the blunt end of a chopstick, imprint a light depression in the center of each dumpling (fig. 5.3).


    Finish the braise: Using a spoon, scrape off and discard the fat from the chilled braising liquid, then turn the liquid into a large saucepan. Bring it to simmer over medium heat; when it is fluid, add the shredded beef. Warm the braise, stirring occasionally, until hot throughout. Taste for seasoning. Cover and turn down the heat to low to keep the braise warm while you cook the dumplings and prepare the garnish.


    While the braise reheats, bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt, then drop the dumplings one at a time into the boiling water. They will be soft, so take care that they do not stick to each other when you add them to the water. Turn down the heat to medium-low, allow the water to return to a gentle simmer, and poach the dumplings until firm but tender and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Drain the dumplings in a colander set in the sink, then turn them into hot braise. 


    To serve: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the caraway and cook until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Add the blanched sliced peppers or raw shaved onion to the pan and toss with the hot caraway butter. Ladle the braise into 6 warmed shallow bowls and top each with a dollop of sour cream. Spoon the peppers or onions and caraway butter over each.

    1. 2.1
    2. 2.2
    3. 2.3
    1. 5.1
    2. 5.2
    3. 5.3