The word tokány comes from the Rumanian tocana, meaning ragout. The Hungarians in Transylvania developed the ragout into an interesting formula with many variations.

The meat is cut into pieces inches by ¼ inch, long pieces in comparison to those for the other stews. The cooking method is based on the Mongolian waterless braising technique, in which the meat cooks in its own juice. The meats used are most often beef or lamb, but veal, chicken or even game can be used. Generally only black pepper is used, but in addition marjoram, or in Transylvania summer savory (csömbéer), can be added for flavoring. In the older versions a variety of herbs was used. Onion is always used, but it is usually scantier than in the other stews. Garlic is sometimes added.

At first paprika was never used for this ragout; in the past 75 years this spice has been added to tokány also, but in much smaller amounts than for pörkölt or paprikás. If it is used, it should be a very small amount.

I. Berbécstokány (mutton) Cut leg of mutton into little tokány pieces and sear in a little lard. Then sprinkle with plenty of black pepper and cook, covered, over low heat till the meat is almost soft. If the mutton is old, a little water will have to be added. Measure onions equal to half the weight of the meat and slice thin. In the last half hour, mix onions with meat and cook together until the stew is done.

II. For a Transylvanian version, add some summer savory and just before serving mix in cottage-fried potatoes. Sour cream is optional.

III. Mushroom and beef tokány is made with summer savory and red wine.

IV. Gambrinus tokány is a basic tokány with beer added.

V. Debrecen beef tokány has onion and garlic fried with smoked bacon pieces. It is cooked with lecsó plus Debrecen sausage.

VI. Another category is the sour-cream tokány. Perhaps the most famous are the herány and the hétvezér (seven chieftains), which is made with beef, veal, pork, fried onions or smoked bacon, lecsó and sour cream.

VII. One of the most interesting versions of tokány is the ancient dish of sour vetrece (savanyú vetrece), which was already mentioned as a part of the dinners of King Matthias in the fifteenth century. In this type of ragout, beef is cooked with smoked bacon, garlic and black pepper; later bay leaves, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar and grated lemon rind are added, and finally sour cream. The only flavors lost over the centuries are mace, ginger and saffron. In the dining rooms of the Transylvanian gentry, paper-thin slices of peeled lemon were served on top of this more sweet than sour dish.

The variations of tokány are limitless. In Transylvania they serve a dill tokány with sour cream, accompanied by puliszka; in the Kunság region there is an interesting mutton version cooked with beans, bacon and tomato; and one of the most delicious is the suckling-pig tokány with tarhonya from the Great Plains.

Tokány sauce should have the thickness of a ragout, somewhat thicker than the sauce of pörkölt or gulyás, but not as heavy as a cream sauce, and it should not be thickened with flour. Remember that there are definite rules, but there is no single “holy authority.”