Florida’s rainy summer weather is starting already, and I have to say, I’m quite fond of the thunderstorms that roll in each afternoon like clockwork. (So long as I have nowhere to be and can cozy up in my apartment with a good book or movie!) The only thing that’s been missing from my rainy day festivities is some soul-warming comfort food.
It just so happens that my mom dug up her grandmother’s (my great-grandma’s) old cookbooks the other day, so I thought I’d try to whip up one of these recipes with my own flair. My maternal grandfather’s family was extremely Hungarian, so most of the books and recipes that my mom rediscovered include things like ‘pot steak,’ jellied pigs’ feet, and stuffed cabbage. Considering that most people these days aren’t gnawing away on pickled pigs’ feet, I thought I’d go for a classic slow-cooked dish: chicken paprikás.
Looking over the few different recipes for chicken paprikás in my great grandmother’s cookbooks, I noticed that there was a serious lack of vegetables in all of them. But, to be fair, this dish originated as humble country grub. While the adapted recipe I’ve provided below may not be totally authentic, I found it to be flavorful and a tad more nutritious. (Veggies 4 lyfe!)
Here’s a bit of background on this beloved Hungarian entrée:
Chicken paprikás is named for the spice that stars in this flavorful red dish. Paprika is made by grinding the pods of Capsicum annuum peppers into a powder. It can come in eight different grades, varying from mildly sweet and bright red (Különleges) to a dark reddish brown with ample heat (Erös). Paprika has become pretty much synonymous with Hungarian cooking, but the peppers from which it is made did not originate anywhere near Central Europe.
Native to North and northern South America, Capsicum annuum is a species of pepper that varies widely in shape, size, color, and level of spice.1 It is said that Christopher Columbus mistook these spicy plants for the source of prized black pepper and brought them back to Spain from the New World at the end of the 15th century.2, 3 However, culinary use of these peppers did not take off immediately. Paprika peppers, or ‘Turkish peppers’ were actually used as exotic ornamental plants in wealthy Europeans’ gardens.3
Like many ingredients in the culinary world, paprika did come full circle, though. In the 16th and 17th centuries, paprika was brought to Hungary from the Balkans by Greek, Turkish, and Slavic peoples.3 Peasants and herdsmen began using the spice in their simple stews, such as gulyás (goulash), and eventually wealthier folks embraced the practice as well. It is suggested that widespread use of paprika in Hungary came about in the late 18th century, when it appears on a written monastery inventory, and even as a surname in a few registry documents.3
Nowadays, paprika is typically used as a finishing touch of color atop deviled eggs, but if you’re looking for some truly authentic flavor in your paprikás or gulyás, look for the Hungarian variety. The two main hubs for paprika production in Hungary are Szeged and Kalocsa, and each is home to a paprika museum and festival. (Szeged brand is what I used in the recipe below, and it is available in many grocery stores.)
- 2 Tbsp. bacon fat or oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 8 oz. mushroom caps, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1.5 lbs. chicken pieces (I opted for skinless chicken thighs)
- 1 cup chicken broth (approx.)
- 2.5 Tbsp. sweet Hungarian paprika
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup sour cream brought to room temperature
- Cooked egg noodles for serving
Heat bacon fat or oil in a dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, add onions and carefully brown, stirring frequently to avoid sticking and burning. After the onions are browned, salt and pepper the chicken pieces and add them to the pot. Brown chicken on both sides. Add the red pepper, garlic, and mushrooms, stirring to incorporate well. Allow to saute for a few minutes.
Add enough chicken broth to just cover the chicken pieces, being sure to scrape the flavorful browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Stir in the paprika and tomato paste, lower heat to a simmer, and cover. Let cook for approximately one hour.
The chicken should be tender and easily come off the bone, and the drippings should be of a sauce consistency once done. If there is too much liquid, cook a little longer uncovered to boil it off, or use a roux to thicken to desired consistency.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes. Take the room temperature sour cream and slowly stir in warm sauce from the pot a spoonful at a time. This ‘tempering’ helps to ensure that your sauce will incorporate smoothly rather than break or curdle. Once the sour cream is warmed, add it all to the pot and stir.
Serve hot over dumplings, rice, mashed potatoes, or noodles. Enjoy!