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Borsos Tokány

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TasunkaWitko View Drop Down
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    Posted: 31 January 2012 at 10:05

Borsos Tokány

From Culinaria Hungary:

Quote We don’t always know who the people are who have provided us with some great inventions. And we don’t know who it was who first had the brilliant idea of combining fat, onions and paprika to create that wonderful harmony of flavors so typical of pörkölt and paprikás dishes. This masterpiece, still a defining factor in Hungarian cuisine, can undoubtedly be traced back to cooking in a kettle….Apart from pörkölt and paprikás, there is another member of the family of dishes that are seasoned with the “trinity” of oil, onions and paprika, and it probably originated from Transylvania. Tokány is always made from poultry, pork, beef, mutton or venison….Paprikás is made with lean meat such as veal, chicken or rabbit; tokány is usually made with beef….The difference is in the detail; for pörkölt the meat is usually diced, and for tokány it is cut into short, thin strips.

This recipe was generously shared by John Rivera, along with these notes:

Quote If my memory serves, I fell in love with paprika around the age of six, when we were living in Spain and their pimentón not only colored many beautiful dishes, but added a spicy kick to them that I enjoy to this day.

It only makes sense that I love Hungarian food and its liberal use of paprika in many of their dishes.  Here is a little bit of background before we get into my recipe.

The first people to live in present-day Hungary were nomads called the Magyars, who arrived in around A.D. 800. Hungary's national dish, a meat stew called gulyás, can be traced to the Magyars' eating habits. They traveled with cubes of meat cooked with onions, then dried, and later on the journey (sometimes days later), water could be added to make a stew.


Quote Magyars appreciate good food and lots of it. They believe that food elevates the spirit, promotes confidence, and is a comforting symbol of success and status. There is a saying: “Hungarians may live in a howl but eat like kings, and the English live like kings but eat like beggars”.

Considering what Martin Amis, the famous modern Irish writer, said, “The French live to eat, the English eat to die,” the Magyars appear to be correct...

With that being said, a hearty supper of Hungarian deliciousness seemed in order for this weekend. I've made this dish often and sharing the recipe has recruited several other believers to this wonderful food. This is really mild, but has a rich, savory sauce and taste with a wonderful depth and satisfying feel.

I made this some time ago and the result was exactly as advertised, rich and savory, mild yet spicy. Here is a "plated" picture with the borsos tokány on a bed of Parmesan-chive mashed potatoes:

This was an early attempt at "food photography," so it is not a great one, but I hope you get the idea. It was well-received by the family, except for the fact that I concentrated so hard on the dish itself, I forgot a side dish! Braised cabbage would be a good side for this, or perhaps some sort of green bean, zucchini or pea-and-carrot főzelék:

In doing a little research for this dish, I consulted Time-life's "Foods of the World" series. In the volume titled "Vienna's Empire" (of which Hungary was a part), I learned that one of the hallmarks of Hungarian cooking is the sautéing of chopped onion as a beginning for many, many dishes. Historically, this is done in lard, but that of course is a dirty word these days, so olive oil or butter are used. These of course are a little better for you than the lard that is traditionally used, but according to all sources, the flavour just isn't the same. Having said that, commercial lard is so refined nowadays that the real depth of flavour is hard to find there as well, so some people use rendered bacon fat, reserved and kept for such purposes. What you use in the end is up to you.

According to my reading, it is important to sauté the onions to the point of being golden,  and then only just a tiny bit farther, before removing from the heat and adding garlic (if any) and paprika. The reason for this is so that the paprika will not scorch, but will instead release its oils and darken a bit as it is infused with the warm fat, turning into the rich, savory deliciousness that dishes such as this are so famous for.

I also learned that Hungary has four national "pepper dishes:" gulyás, pörkölt, paprikás and tokány. All four are varieties of hot, spicy stew with some similarities, but also with subtle and important differences.

Give this traditional Hungarian beef a try, and I am sure you will be pleased! Here's the recipe:

Quote Borsos Tokány

3 pounds chuck & sirloin, any combination, sliced into strips 2 to 3 inches long by 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick
Olive oil, butter or, to be more authentic, bacon fat or lard for frying
1 large onion, finely chopped
5 or 6 cloves garlic, crushed
4 generous tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
Salt, to taste
A generous amount of freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups dry white wine
1 small can tomato paste

Cut beef into strips about 2 to 3 inches long. If you have a thick chuck, slice it into strips about 1 inch wide, then flip each slice on its side and slice that in half. Set aside.

Sauté the onion in a splash of oil (or other fat) over medium heat until golden. Remove from heat into a container. Add a little more fat and sauté meat in batches over high heat in an uncovered skillet or pot, browning well on all sides. Return the onions to the skillet, then remove from heat and add the garlic and paprika, stirring to coat. Season with salt and pepper, then add the wine. Return to heat and reduce to a gentle simmer, covered.

After about 20 minutes, uncover skillet and add tomato paste and a splash of water or wine to turn paste into a thick gravy. Continue simmering gently until the sauce thickens well, about 30 minutes, maybe more. Let the liquid reduce as much as possible. It will become a thick, smooth, maroon sauce.

Taste it at this point and add season if necessary. Serve immediately with rice, oven roasted or mashed potatoes.

For anyone interested, here's a version I made with venison and mushrooms:
There are also plenty of step-by-step and pix, which apply well to both this and the original beef version.
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