It's well known that paprika is the famous spice of Hungary. What I think most people don't realize is that the red powder is made from ripened peppers also called paprika. The word paprika means pepper in Hungarian, and I don't mean peppercorns, but rather the fruit or vegetable, depending on how you look at it. Hungarian sweet peppers are typically pale yellow to pale green in color when they are fresh. They can be eaten raw or cooked into many recipes. But when they ripen to bright red, they are dried and ground into the fine red powder known as paprika or what I like to call Hungarian gold.
Hungarian paprika (pronounced puh-pri-ka) is available in sweet, hot, and everything in between, with eight varieties altogether. Sweet paprika has a deeper red color whereas hot paprika is more rusty in color. The signature dish most famous for using paprika is chicken paprikash, a stew of chicken with an onion sauce richly colored and flavored with paprika. I grew up on paprikás csirke, as it is known in Hungarian. It is my comfort food, and that's exactly what it is for so many Hungarians and Hungarian-Americans. I consider it my favorite home-cooked dish. And, of course, no recipe rivals my mother's.
This is that recipe. It starts by searing chicken thighs to extract flavor. Once removed from the pan, lots of onions and a little garlic are added to sweat and help release the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Chicken stock (or water) is added and the meat goes back in to simmer until tender. With the meat removed again, the onions get pureed and blended with a mixture of flour and sour cream that has been tempered with a bit of sauce. The result is a velvety rust-colored sauce, which is the key to creating this authentic homey dish. There is something so special about home cooking, because it reminds you of home. I'm glad to finally be sharing this recipe, because it means so much to me.
Chicken paprikash wouldn't be complete without nokedli, or spaetzle as it is known in German-speaking areas in Europe. The little pasta dumplings are made from a stiff dough of flour and eggs that is pressed through a grater or colander over a pot of boiling water to form little misshapen dumplings. You can also make them with a spaetzle maker. But another and more old-fashioned method would be to cut them by hand into thin stringy pieces, dropping them into boiling water as you go. If you're making this dish, don't leave out the nokedli, it just isn't paprikash without it.
Chicken Paprikash or Paprikás Csirke
8 chicken thighs, skin on, trimmed of fat
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
4 cups chicken stock or water
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sour cream
Nokedli, recipe follows
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, for garnish
Warm oil in a large heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Sear chicken in batches until brown all over. Remove to a plate. Pour off most of the fat in the pot.
Add onions and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and paprika and toast 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add stock and scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add back the chicken. Bring to a gentle boil. Lower to a fast simmer and cook, covered, until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. Turn chicken once during cooking time.
Remove chicken to a plate. Skin can be removed if you like. Increase heat to high to reduce the sauce by a third. Off from the heat, puree the sauce using an immersion blender. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix together flour and sour cream until smooth. Add a ladleful of sauce to temper the mixture. Add to the pan and continue to blend until smooth. Check seasoning. Return chicken to pan and reheat. Serve with nokedli. Garnish with parsley. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.
4 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
1-1/4 cup water
Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil.
In a large bowl, mix together flour, eggs, salt, oil, and water until a stiff, smooth batter forms.
Using a spatula, press the dough, a little at a time, through a grater or colander over the boiling water. Keep stirring to make sure the dumplings don't clump. Boil until they rise to the top, about 5 minutes. Drain and return to the pot. Toss with a drizzle of oil to prevent them sticking together.