Sunday, January 28, 2007

Chicken Paprikash

Chicken "Paprikash" with a Dollop of Sour Cream
Chicken Paprikash with a Dollop of Sour Cream

It was only recently as I was perusing a cookbook I have had for a long time, Culinaria Hungary, that I realized there are two popular Hungarian chicken dishes made with sweet paprika and tomato - chicken pörkölt (pörkölt csirke) and chicken paprikash (paprikás csirke). They are basically the same recipe, except one has sour cream added to the sauce, and one does not. 

Over a long weekend upstate, Walter's mother Gizi taught me how to make her chicken paprikash. Her recipe was a little more tomatoey than others I had tried, I assume, because when she came to the United States in the late 1930's, she had to adapt her cooking based on what ingredients she could easily find. But she never compromised on the paprika, which was always from Hungary, not Hungarian-style paprika. I order mine from Kalustyan's

For years I have been making her recipe with one change. Instead of putting sour cream in the sauce, I serve it on the side to dollop over the chicken, which means I have unintentionally morphed from one recipe to the other. I do this because the sour cream can curdle if overheated, and most of the time I have leftovers and don't want to worry about reheating the sauce. And I still call it chicken paprikash because to me that's what it is.  

This is a good recipe for a dinner party. It can be easily increased; you are limited only by the size of your pan. I have been known to make two pans side-by-side.

Chicken Paprikash
From Gizi

Use a pan that will hold all the ingredients with the chicken in a single layer. Note that the chicken is not browned in this recipe; the pieces are slipped, naked, into the sauce.

I usually serve this with buttered nokedli (similar to spaetzle), blanched green beans tossed with olive oil and salt, and cucumber salad.
Serves 4

8 chicken thighs, skin and fat removed (I call them “naked.”)
About 3 neutral tablespoons oil (I use grapeseed.)
2 green bell peppers, cut into strips 
Lots of diced onion - depending on the size, I use 1 to 1-1/2 large onions
1 14-ounce can tomato sauce 
1 cup of broth, chicken or broth made from Better than Bouillon Vegetable base (I use this)
2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
Salt to taste
Sour cream

Sauté the diced onion in the oil until it starts to turn gold; do not let it brown. Add the paprika, and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, allowing the paprika to “bloom” but making sure it does not burn.

To avoid splattering, turn off the heat, and add the tomato sauce. To get all the tomato sauce out of the can, pour the broth into the tomato sauce can, swirl it around, and add it to the pot.

Turn the heat back on, bring the sauce just to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Taste for salt. You may not need any because enough salt may have been in the tomato sauce and/or broth.

Slip the “naked” chicken pieces into the pan, then strew the strips of green pepper over the top. Do not stir them in at this point. Put a cover on the pan, slightly askew, and simmer, stirring after the first 20 minutes to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. If you have the heat low enough, nothing will be. 

Check it again in about 10 minutes - at the 30-minute mark. If it isn't thickening, leave the lid completely off, turn the heat up a little bit, and keep your eye on it. (At the end you want the sauce to be thick enough to coat a spoon.) If it still isn't the consistency of heavy cream, turn the heat up a little more and continue to reduce it until it is. After a total of 45 minutes (not 45 minutes more), skim off any fat that may have accumulated.

At this point, I serve the chicken in its sauce as is with sour cream on the side. Then it is actually called Chicken Pörkölt, rather than Chicken Paprikash. However, for the more traditional chicken paprikash, turn off the heat, remove the chicken from the sauce, and stir in 2 large tablespoons of sour cream until incorporated and smooth. Put the chicken back in the pan, coat it with the sauce, and serve. I don’t do this because if there are leftovers, the sour cream will get grainy or curdle when you reheat. Also if you’re making it to serve later, you do not want to do this now. 

Gizi 1937

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