Fancy chicken tonight? Evelina Hubert shares the secret to making a great Hungarian classic – Chicken Paprikash
Every good Hungarian recipe begins with the solid and reassuring culinary direction: ‘Take one large onion’, the perfect base for a dish you want to be devoured and remembered for its flavour and depth, the humble onion knows how to pack a punch, so as you peel off the layers of your base ingredient, you know you’re about to embark on the creation of a dish which will be characterised by its passion and power. But hold on not so fast, it would be remiss not to mention another Hungarian store cupboard essential, for any true Hungarian food aficionado knows, before you can really get going, you must add a healthy dash of paprika. This fiery spice made from dried and ground red peppers, is tantalising and exciting and adds a smoky perfume to your dish.
Whether it be sweet or hot, the combination of paprika and onion is simply an essential building block of Hungarian cuisine. One of the basic elements within the spectrum of Hungarian flavours, it’s the delightful punchy flavour of the onion, particularly when it’s caramelized that makes it so amazing. Even better the onion contains important vitamins and large amounts of minerals and antioxidants and who can ignore the inimitable aroma the brotherhood between paprika and onion creates. So just close your eyes and inhale… that’s what Hungarian cuisine smells like.
Poor man’s stew
I don’t know about you, but I want to get on with some cooking, all this spice talk is making me hungry, so lets get on with it and prepare a very popular recipe which, if the truth be told, is nothing more than a simple, but ever so tasty chicken stew known in Hungary as Paprikash.
But before we get going, if you ever want to experiment with the concept, just ensure red paprika is in your ingredient list and then happily experiment with an exciting variety of tasty stews. You could try pörkölt, a lovely variant, that is distinguished by the cream it contains. Another dish to try is a close relative to Paprikash, it is of course the ever popular Beef Goulash, or try another poor man’s stew, a potato dish called krumplipaprikash.
But enough delightful diversions, let’s focus all our attentions on our gorgeous Chicken Paprikash.
Classic and modern
Lovers of the old culinary school will argue that the best way to prepare this dish, is to use a variety of pieces of chicken. Back in the day, we’d also grab the lard and full-fat cream, without a moment of hesitation, but of course if we proceeded in this fashion today, the ‘good nutrition police’ would remove us from our kitchen in handcuffs, so in order to keep our hearts and the healthy food advocates happy lets keep it light and special. Although I would suggest, many of these concerns about the vices and virtues of some of our old favourite ingredients are still up for debate. But for this version of our lovely stew we’re going for a mix between the classic and the modern, so we’ve gone for lard and chicken breast, rather than all the chicken.
Dense and rich
Of course the quality of the ingredients we use is so important, namely the excellence of the paprika. The outcome of our efforts depends entirely on it’s quality. So check out the colour first off, as it is the colour that will tell you all you need to know about its quality. Paprika should have a beautiful dark red colour, avoid brown or light red spice. The brown and light red varieties have usually been prematurely harvested or badly dried. As the peppers are not hand-picked anymore this has had a detrimental effect on the quality of spices. Add a good paprika to your dish and you are guaranteed a top quality stew that dazzles the palette and the eyes with it’s intensity and bright red. Now the juice around your stew should be dense and rich orange red. But don’t get carried away with the idea that you cannot go wrong with plenty of onions and paprika. The opposite is in fact true! They only add to the quality of your meal. So let’s do it!
1 medium sized chicken
2 dl sour cream
2 tbsp oil
2 large onions (chopped)
2-3 red tomatoes (roughly chopped)
2 tbsp sweet or hot paprika
2 green peppers (chopped to fine strips or cubes)
1 stock cube
Portion the skinned chicken into fillets and season with salt. Prepare the vegetables and spices. Finely chop the onions, green peppers and tomatoes.
When you have everything ready, heat the oil (or lard) chop 3 large onions and cook them until golden. Add paprika. Rather more than less. There’s nothing worse than bland khaki coloured thin juice, so be liberal with the paprika and create a rich, intense and robust sauce.
When adding the paprika it is very important to stir immediately after pouring into the pot. The smell of baked paprika is immediately recognizable, so do not let it burn, otherwise all your efforts will be wasted, because burned paprika tastes bitter. Be careful, it only takes a few seconds before you get into a potential danger zone, so add the chicken portions immediately. This step will ensure we avoid burning the paprika. Pour water over the chicken to cover it with water. Add green peppers, tomatoes, pepper and salt. Cook until tender.
When the meat is soft, separate some juice to a small bowl and stir in the flour with sour cream. If you want to get a strong and delicious taste add a beef stock cube, but that’s just between us. If that particular tip were to get out, it would insult lovers of old school style cooking.
Usually served with pasta or potatoes, but the best accompaniment is Hungarian style home made dumplings similar to Italian gnocchi called nokedli. Preparation is simple and an integral part of the Hungarian culinary repertoire. Chicken Paprikash also goes well with sweet and sour cucumber salad, which perfectly complements this traditional Hungarian food.
Bon appetit – Jó étvágyat!
Join us next time for our halusky recipe, a delicious pasta spaghetti dish.