Monday, April 16, 2012

Let’s go Hungarian!

Some of the first cookbooks I ever got were part of a Doubleday book club my mother and I joined, the Cookbook Guild, or some such thing. It was the usual deal: promise to buy a certain number over the course of a year and you’d get a bunch of free ones. Two of these remain among my favorites: Leone’s Italian Cookbook and The Blue Danube Cookbook. Both contain some wonderful recipes that we still make a few times a year, and both are a lot of fun to read. They certainly inspired me along the way.

I’ve inundated you all with enough Italian recipes over the past two months, so I feel it’s time to branch out a bit. Today, I’m going to delve into a chicken favorite from the latter cookbook, and share a quick, easy and very tasty recipe from one of the countries touched by the Danube River: Hungary.

Probably like me, you think of paprika when you hear the words “Hungary” and “cooking”. The first thing you should know (if you don’t already) is that Hungarian paprika is very different than the more usual Spanish paprika. They are certainly not interchangeable. So if you want to try this recipe, you’ll need to have some Hungarian paprika on hand. Fortunately, it’s not hard to find these days. I buy all my herbs and spices from bulk food warehouses, mostly because you’re guaranteed to get fresh if they are a busy place, and second, because they almost always stock some of the harder to find items like Hungarian paprika.

How to describe it? There is more depth of flavor than Spanish. Both are made from red peppers and some can be quite spicy. Mostly what you find under the generic term Hungarian is known as Delicate (csípősmentes csemege) or Exquisite Delicate (csemegepaprika) which is slightly more pungent. If you have a Hungarian food store nearby, check out some of the others. You’ll find them in all different colors, flavors and spiciness. Hungarians, as you’ll soon discover, are very into paprika.

As for this dish, Chicken Paprikash, the second word refers to the addition at the end of cooking of sour cream. If you make this dish without sour cream, it would be called Chicken Paprika. It’s worth a try, but we prefer the sour cream version.

It is simplicity itself to make, doesn’t take very long, and the only knock I can give it is that it doesn’t reheat successfully unless you don’t mind the sour cream separating. It tastes fine otherwise.

Chicken Paprikash
Serves 4-6

While you can serve this very easy and delicious dish with egg noodles, the traditional accompaniment in Hungary is “Noki”. If you’d like the recipe for these little gems, let me know. They’re actually pretty easy to make. Altogether it’s a satisfying meal on those cold winter evenings or in early spring when the chickens are young and tender.

Speaking of which, if you can find a source of farm-raised, free range chicken, buy it! You will be amazed at what real chicken tastes like.

1 large chicken (or parts equaling such)
2 Tbs bacon fat
1½ cups red onion, finely chopped
1-2 Tbs Hungarian paprika
½ tsp Salt
2 Tbs flour
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup sour cream (at room temperature) We use low-fat sour cream and it tastes just fine with this.

1. Cut up the chicken into pieces (we usually cut the breasts in half). Rinse and pat dry thoroughly.

2. In a frying pan, melt the bacon fat and cook the onion until it is golden. Remove to a bowl.

3. Sprinkle the chicken pieces on all sides with paprika. Add a bit more bacon fat to your pan if needed and brown the chicken a few pieces at a time.

4. Arrange all the chicken in the pan in one layer. Sprinkle with salt, cover and greatly reduce heat. Let chicken stew in its own juice for 15 minutes. Add a bit of water if the pan is getting dry. Chicken is cooked if its juices run clear when poked with a knife. Remove the chicken from the pan and keep warm.

5. While this is going on, heat up the stock.

6. Blend flour in with the gravy in the pan. Cook for 2 minutes. (We usually add a bit more paprika here, too.) Add heated stock, cooked onions and stir gently, scraping up any of the good bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the sauce has thickened, put the chicken back in and cook gently until everything is heated through.

7. Place the chicken in serving bowl, then stir the sour cream into the sauce. (Never boil sour cream! It will separate.) Check for salt and grind some black pepper into the sauce. Pour over the chicken and serve while piping hot.

Recipe is mostly from The Blue Danube Cookbook by Maria Kozslik Donovan

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