Transylvanian beef stew with polenta

Transylvanian beef stew belongs to the large family of tokány, which is a kind of stew that doesn’t contain paprika, seasoned with black pepper and tomato instead. Tokány is not equal with pörkölt; the recipe of pörkölt hasn’t been changed over the last two hundreds years, whereas the description of tokány is remarkably gaudy and diverse.

Seeing the variety of recipes you might think that any kind of stew can be called tokány, but if you read old Hungarian cookbooks, you wouldn’t find any dish called tokány, only stews made in tokány style. So the word tokány rather refers to a method of preparation than a special dish.

In some regions of Transylvania the word tokány means mush or polenta instead of a meat dish. Polenta is a common, comforting and cheap meal, which is made from coarsely ground cornmeal,  cooked on the stove into a thick, solidified mush with any combination of water, milk, cream and butter. It can be served creamy, or chilled and cut into squares and then baked or fried. In Hungary, polenta is known as puliszka and is often served as a side dish of ragouts or stews.

Transylvanian beef stewphoto: zserbo.com

Ingredients:

Note: quantities in parentheses are approximate since in Hungary metric units are used.

  • 100 g (~3,5 oz) bacon
  • 1 onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 800 g (~2 lbs) beef chuck or round, cut into 4 x 1 cm strips
  • 1,5 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • marjoram and thyme to taste
  • 1 wax pepper
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1-1,5 l (~6 cups) broth

For the polenta:

  • 200 g (~1 cup) coarsely ground cornmeal
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 l (~4  cups) water
  • 20 g (~3/4 oz) butter
  • salt and pepper

Fry chopped bacon in a sauté pan, when enough lard releases, add finely chopped onion to sauté.

Add beef and fry until strips turn white on all sides, then add finely chopped garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes while stirring continuously.

Stir in tomato purée and sliced wax pepper. Salt and pepper, season with marjoram and thyme to taste. Pour in half liter of broth, cover the pan and over low heat cook until beef becomes tender (in this case it took 3 hours). As it takes long and liquid boils away, you have to add more broth in order to have a thick sauce at the end of the process.

Meanwhile cook polenta just before the stew is ready.

Bring 1 liter of salted water to a boil. Pour the coarsely ground cornmeal into the boiling water and cook for 20 minutes while whisking constantly. It’s better to use a hand mixer to avoid lumps.

When polenta thickens, remove from the heat and stir in butter.

Spoon polenta on plates and ladle beef stew over top. Serve immediately.

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