Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hungry for Hungarian - Making Chicken Paprikash

Like so much ethnic food of central and eastern Europe, this is a hearty, filling, warm-your-belly, make-you-feel-loved kind of dish. I know there are many ways to prepare chicken paprikash, and as with recipes like this methods of cooking can vary greatly from family to family. Being Polish instead of Hungarian, I didn’t grow up eating this at home very often, but there was a little neighborhood in Detroit that had a few Hungarian restaurants. 

The paprikash I remember eating back then featured whole pieces of chicken, usually legs and thighs, that was very tender and fell off the bone. It was served over little boiled dumplings called “spaetzle” that melted in your mouth. I’ve made this dish in this same way – it’s wonderful – but it takes a lot of time to prepare. So, as I got older and wanted to scratch that paprikash itch, I found a couple of ways to satisfy the craving without spending hours in the kitchen.

This recipe calls for boneless and skinless chicken thighs. You could use breasts if you prefer the white meat of the chicken, but I think the thighs have a wonderful flavor. This is also an occasion when I break out my electric skillet – probably my most favorite small kitchen appliance! This dish lends itself perfectly to the convenience and versatility of an electric skillet, but if you don’t have one you can use a large skillet on the stove top. Just make sure you have a lid that will work with the skillet (and then go out and get yourself an electric skillet – they are well worth the small investment!).

Not surprising, this dish features paprika in rather large quantities. You can find different kinds of paprika in the stores. Regular paprika is fairly mild and doesn’t add much heat or sweetness. It’s great for adding color and is often used as a garnish. Hungarian paprika comes in a number of varieties, but it generally has a much richer, sweeter and deeper flavor profile than regular paprika and is well suited for this dish. There is also smoked paprika, which has become popular in the last couple of years. To me, smoked paprika smells and tastes like the coating of BBQ potato chips! It has a lot of good uses, and if you like a strong smoky flavor, you could use it here. There is also the Spanish variety of paprika. Use what you like best.

You can make your own dumplings, or serve this over egg noodles, pasta or even rice. The sauce is rich and delicious, so you want something to catch all that goodness. Generally, I make egg noodles but I didn’t have any on-hand so I used pasta. It worked just fine.  Either way, here is a dish that is easy to make, feeds four (or a couple really hungry guys!) and delivers big flavor. Enjoy!

Chicken Paprikash

3 TBSP Butter
2 TBSP Olive oil
2-3 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
3 TBSP Hungarian paprika
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
2 medium onions, diced
1 28oz can whole tomatoes (I like to use plum tomatoes)
½ tsp chili pepper flakes
½ tsp sugar
1 cup sour cream
2 TBSP heavy cream (optional)
1 12oz bag egg noodles

Place chicken thighs in a bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons paprika, salt and pepper over chicken and toss until all pieces are well coated. Set your electric skillet to 350/360 degree range (or medium high on a stove top skillet) and add butter and olive oil. When hot, place chicken in skillet.  You want the chicken to brown (all the paprika will insure that it does) but you also want it thoroughly cooked. Turn chicken once during the process. When chicken is cooked (no pink on the insides and juices are clear), remove from skillet and put on a plate – cover with foil. 

Using the remaining butter/oil/chicken fat in the skillet, add the diced onions. Stir to get any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet and cook onions until tender – around five minutes. Add can of whole tomatoes, another tablespoon of paprika and the chili pepper flakes (these are optional – I like the little kick they give to the sauce). Reduce heat to simmer and cover skillet. Let cook for about 25 minutes until the tomatoes become very tender. Using the back of a large spoon, smash the tomatoes down and stir the sauce. 

Add sugar, sour cream and heavy cream (if using). Reduce heat to lowest setting and add chicken back into sauce, making sure to cover each piece of chicken gets covered with sauce. Cover skillet and let chicken and sauce hang out while you cook the noodles.

Cook egg noodles as directed on package. Drain. Serve chicken paprikash over noodles, garnish with fresh parsley or dill. Enjoy!

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