Jan’s friends are coming for Stitches—a gathering of knitters— and I thought I would make chicken paprikash for one of their meals. Traditional Hungarian chicken paprikash (Paprikás Csirke) is chicken slowly simmered with pork lard, onions, green peppers and seasoned with paprika and sour cream.
Note: Friend Barbara kept saying, “Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.”
Sweet Hungarian paprika is the primary spice for this dish. As a result, you want to use the best and freshest paprika you can find. While you can made do with a fresh can of supermarket spice—it is worth the time and effort to find your nearest spice shop—or to buy it on-line.
Many of the modern interpretations replace the lard with a healthier fat and add tomatoes—or another umami enhancing ingredient. While the original recipe has only a few ingredients, many cooks add their own favorite ingredient: Anaheim pepper, bay leaf, caraway seeds, cayenne, dill, garlic, gelatin, leeks, lemon, marjoram, mushrooms, rosemary, hot smoked Spanish paprika, spinach, thyme, or even chickpeas—to go all fusion Indian on the dish. Modern finishing garnishes include: dill and parsley.
When you have a recipe with only a few ingredients, how you treat them becomes much more important. Simply tossing the meat, vegetables and spices into the pot to simmer together would produce a wan, lackluster dish. Each ingredient must be treated with the respect it deserves, to bring out all of its potential flavors.
While I drop in on dozens—if not hundreds—of blogs, one of the few that I follow is Serious Eats. Kenji presents two recipes for chicken paprikash. In the first, he develops the flavors of the onions and spices and then adds the chicken to the pot. In the closed environment of the pot, the chicken sheds its juices to provide the liquid for the sauce.
In Kenji’s second recipe, he browns the chicken to develop the deep chicken flavors caused by the Maillard reaction, before removing it to build the flavors of the other ingredients. The drawback to this method is that, in browning the meat, all of the moisture of the chicken is cooked away and you need to add a liquid to the pan to replace it.
There is a way to get the best of both worlds. In any stewed chicken recipe the skin will always go flabby and unappealing. This deficit can actually be turned into an advantage. If you remove the skin and brown it separately, you get not only the well browned chicken flavor of the gribenes, but schmaltz to use as the cooking oil you need to brown the onions and create a roux to thicken your sauce. This technique also give you more control over how much fat and chicken skin go into your dish.
While many modern recipes use only dark meat for this dish, I am sure that a traditional recipe uses a whole chicken. My wife prefers white meat—because she must watch her fat content—while I prefer the dark meat. The question here is how to you keep the white meat from overcooking. The answer is obvious once you think about it—add the chicken breasts to the pot later. They will still pick up all of the flavors of the long simmered sauce, but they will not turn all dried out and stringy.
Onions and peppers are key elements to this dish. Traditionally, green bell peppers and yellow onion are used, but most modern interpretations use red bell peppers and I have seen some recipes that use scallions. For this dish, I think I will go old school with green bell peppers. And, although it is not strictly in the original, I will have to add some garlic—because my family cannot live without garlic.
Many recipes simply add any liquid they are using to the pot and then sprinkle on the paprika. Like most pepper powders, paprika’s full flavors are blossomed by heating. Cooking the paprika in the hot oil, for even a minute or two, will produce much more complex and delicious flavors.
Note: When my dish was almost done, I tasted the sauce and it seemed flat and dull. Something was missing. I decided that it needed something acidic, I settled on apple cider vinegar. Two teaspoons was enough to round out the flavor profile and bring the dish to life.
One Further Note: I had originally planned to butter the noodles, but—because of Jan’s dietary restrictions—I could not use enough fat to keep them from clumping into a solid mass. However, even though I had added almost no liquid to the pan, this recipe had produced more than enough sauce. After I had transferred the chicken to a serving bowl and thoroughly covered it with sauce, I still had a good half cup of sauce left in the pot. Tossing the noodles in the remaining sauce coated them well and kept them from sticking together.
Karl’s Paprikás Csirke (Hungarian Chicken Paprikash)
1 whole chicken
1 Tbs. Kosher salt
1 Tbs. soy sauce
2 tsp. sugar
2-3 Tbs. gribenes
2 Tbs. schmaltz
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced pole to pole
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1 large green bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup Hungarian sweet paprika
2 Tbs. AP flour
½ tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
½ cup sour cream, plus more for garnish
12 oz. wide egg noodles (I used Trader Joe’s Egg Pappardelle)
1. Peel the skin from the chicken and cut off the first joint of the wings.
Note: I leave the skin on the wings and I cut a bit of the breast meat free with the wing—the chef’s portion.
2. Cut the chicken into portions and reserve
Note: There are many ways to cut up a chicken. For this dish, I cut along the spine with kitchen shears to remove it and cut it into three pieces. I remove the skin and I separate the breasts from the breast bone and ribs to have a boneless breast. I pulled the “tenders” free and cut the breasts into two equal portions. I separate the legs from the thighs. I save the giblets (not the liver) and any bones or meat scraps for building the fond.
3. Put the salt, sugar, and soy sauce into a bowl and add one cup of hot water.
Tip: The soy sauce will add some umami flavor, but most of it will be poured off with the brine, so it will not taste like soy chicken.
4. When the salt and sugar have completely dissolved, stir in one cup of cool water.
5. Put the brining solution in a gallon plastic bag and add the chicken portions.
6. Press the air out and brine the chicken for 3-4 hours in the refrigerator.
7. Pat the skin and scraps dry with a paper towel.
8. Lay the skin flat and use a sharp knife to slice the skin into ½-1/4 inch square bits.
Tip: Cut the skin into long strips and bunch the strips together and then crosscut them into fine pieces. Freezing the skin helps.
9. Put the skin in a 8 quart Dutch oven and cook them over medium heat, until the fat starts to render.
10. Add the meat scraps and bones and continue cooking until the skin bits are crispy and well browned.
Tip: Keep a close eye on your pan near the end, because the difference between crispy and burnt is very short.
11. Transfer the scraps to a bowl to cool and strain the schmaltz into a cup.
Note: This process should leave the bottom of your pot covered with plenty of fond.
12. Reserve 2-3 tablespoons of crunchy chicken skin (gribenes) and 2-3 tablespoons of the chicken fat (schmaltz).
Tip: Freeze the rest of the scraps and fat for later to use in a chicken stock.
13. Deglaze your pot with a few tablespoons of water and return the schmaltz to the pot.
14. Set the burner to medium high heat and, when the grease is hot, add the onions and salt.
15. Sauté the onions until they are starting to pick up some color, about 7-8 minutes.
16. Add the bell peppers and continue cooking until they are soft, about another five minutes.
17. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pot and add the garlic, paprika and flour.
Tip: You may need to add a bit more schmaltz at this point.
18. Cook in the these in the bare patch for one minute and then mix in the vegetables.
19. Stir in the gribenes. and continue cooking for the vegetables for 2-3 minutes, mixing and scrapping the bottom of the pot.
Tip: The thick mixture is going to want to stick and burn, if you are not careful.
20. Add two tablespoons of water to release anything stuck to the bottom of the pot.
21. Remove the dark meat and wings from the brine and rinse off the excess brining liquid.
22. Push the chicken pieces into the vegetables and cover the pot.
23. Reduce the heat to low and simmer.
24. After 15 minutes, push the chicken to the side, scrap the bottom of the pot, and mix the sauce.
25. Turn the chicken over, push them into the sauce, and recover the pot.
Tip: Rinse the white meat at this point, so it is ready to go into the pot.
Note: By now the sauce will have a fair amount of the chicken juices released into it.
26. Push the dark meat to the side, scrap the bottom of the pot, and mix the sauce again.
27. Push the white meat into the sauce and cover them with the pieces of dark meat.
Tip: Now would be a good time to start boiling your water for the noodles.
28. After another 15 minutes, remove the cover and stir the stew.
29. Simmer the chicken, uncovered, for 5-15 minutes more to reduce the sauce and finish off the white meat.
Tip: If you think the white meat is done, but the sauce seems a bit thin, remove the chicken and tent with foil. Reduce the sauce to your desired consistency.
30. Boil the noodles until al dente, drain, and toss with butter.
31. Transfer the chicken to a serving bowl.
32. Stir the black pepper, vinegar, and sour cream into the sauce.
33. Spoon the sauce over the pieces and garnish the dish with a dollop of sour cream.
Tip: If you have too much sauce, you may toss the noodles with the sauce instead of using butter to keep them separate.
34. Serve warm with the noodles on the side.