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!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Time for Homemade Bread!

With bread so plentiful in the markets and bakeries, one might not ever consider making it a home. Sure, many people made their own bread (and a lot of other foods) a hundred years ago.  Why would anyone want to go through the time and trouble to bake homemade bread now? Because it tastes so good and you know exactly what you are eating!
We have heard from a number of people (we love hearing from the Cavalcade of Foodies, by the way!) who suggested we bake some bread. Since there seems to be an endless list of types of bread, we thought we would start with the most basic: the classic American staple white bread. This is the bread that has been made over and over again in city and country kitchens alike. Even within the world of white bread, there are so many different recipes! The one we chose was very simple – flour, yeast, salt, sugar, water, honey and oil. You can leave the honey out if you like, but it gives the bread a subtle sweetness.

Making bread at home engages you with the food you are eating. While you can use equipment to make the job easier, like a mixer or food processor, you can also work the dough with your hands. There is something very connecting about the feel of the dough in your fingers. And as the bread bakes, it fills the house with one of life’s greatest aromas! When the bread is done baking and has cooled off for a few minutes, there are few pleasures greater than putting a big spread of creamy butter on a hunk of warm bread…it makes you glad to be alive!

So while there are a lot of wonderful breads available in the markets, every once in a while it’s good to make your own. The experience will remind you that sometimes we do things not because they are fast or easy, but because they are right.

Basic White Bread

7 cups flour (use bread flour or all purpose)
2 packages yeast (I use fast acting)
2 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP salt
2 TBSP vegetable oil
1 TBSP honey
2 ¼ cups very warm water (between 120-130 degrees)
Butter for greasing bowl
Non-stick cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Once it reaches temperature, shut it off. I find that this is a good place to place the dough after it is mixed and kneaded so that it can proof.

In a large bowl, place 3 ½ cups of flour, yeast, sugar, salt, oil and honey. Add warm water and mix together with large spoon. This mixture will be very loose. Once it is mixed, add in another three cups of flours – ONE CUP AT A TIME – and mix well after each addition. You may find by the time you add in the third cup of flour that it becomes difficult to mix with a spoon. I usually use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl and then start using my hands to continue mixing. You want to make sure all the flour is incorporated. Once dough has been mixed, remove from bowl and place on a board or clean counter that has been dusted with flour. You will use your last ½ cup of flour during the kneading process.

Keep the last ½ cup of flour handy as you begin to knead the dough. The kneading process will probably take 8 to 10 minutes. As the dough picks up the flour that is on the board, add a little more flour to the board.  Kneading involves pressing the dough with the ball of your hand, pulling the dough back with your fingers, folding it over and then turning the dough ball. You do this over and over (see the video). Gradually, the dough will become less sticky and more satiny and elastic.
Once you are finished kneading, shape the dough into a ball and set aside. Prepare a large bowl by coating it with butter or margarine (you could also spray with non-stick spray) and place the dough ball in the bowl upside down, so as to get some of the butter on the top of the dough – and then flip it right side up. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel, and place in oven (it should still be warm) for 50 minutes to an hour (it should at least double in size).

After the dough has risen, remove from oven. Gently push down with fist and it will deflate. Remove from bowl and divide dough in half. Spray two standard size loaf pans with non-stick spray. Shape dough into loaf and place in pans. Cover with plastic wrap or towel and return to oven for a second rise – about 45 minutes to an hour. 

After the dough has risen a second time (it should have risen over the edge of the loaf pan), remove from oven. Set oven to 400 degrees and when it reaches temperature, place loaf pans on center rack and bake for 25-30 minutes. Bread should be dark golden brown on top and sound hollow when you thump it with your thumb.  Remove bread from oven and turn out loaves immediately from pans on to cooling racks. Allow bread to cool at least 20 minutes before slicing.