My new favorite ingredient: Csemege Fuszerpaprika Orlemeny. Otherwise known as sweet Hungarian paprika, direct from Hungary and courtesy of my friend Janet.
Janet and I have known each other since high school. She’s the girl I poured my heart out to about the boy I thought I loved, the future I thought I’d have and the adult I thought I’d be. She’s the girl who honored secrets; who dispensed both wisdom and grace in equal, tender measure. She’s the girl I knew I’d always call my friend.
A number of years ago, she moved from the U.S. to Europe. I see her every three or four years for a precious few hours. She now lives in Hungary and when she visited last month, she came bearing a precious Hungarian commodity:
Hungarians prize their paprika. They take great care when cooking with it. While we like to saute our spices to help them “bloom,” Hungarian cooks never add paprika to a pan set over a flame.
“You’d burn it,” Janet said. “You have to take the pan off the heat.”
I’ve never been a fan of paprika. I usually buy the McCormick brand (or something a little more exotic from Trader Joe’s or Roots if I’m feeling feisty). It sits in the back of my spice drawer, forgotten until I need a shot of color for a dressing, marinade or rub.
But a couple of days after Janet left the States and headed home, she sent me a recipe for chicken paprika. “A perfect use for the Csemege Fuszerpaprika Orlemeny!” she said.
Hmmm. I’ve never been crazy about chicken paprika, either. I’ve always found the chicken bland and slightly dry; the sauce, thin and greasy. The paprika — though it gives the dish its name — seems like an after-thought: Something that adds color but not much else.
Still, Janet was so enthusiastic. And I had to remember our history. During all those high school confessionals, she rarely steered me wrong. I decided to make her version of Paprikas Csirke to see if it could convert me into a paprika fan.
I knew this dish was going to be special as soon as I opened the packet of Hungarian paprika. A peppery, earthy aroma reminiscent of hot chile peppers filled the kitchen. (Paprika belongs to the same family as those peppers.) The powder was a gorgeous reddish-umber shade. When I stirred it into my pot (off the heat, of course), the smell and color intensified.
Tamping down my tendency to play around with recipes, I followed Janet’s instructions faithfully. I removed the chicken after just 30 minutes of braising in a mere cup of liquid. I whisked the flour into the sour cream (as opposed to putting it directly into the braising liquid). I let the sauce come to a gentle boil.
The end result was a chicken paprika unlike any I’ve ever tasted. A deeply golden sauce coated each piece of tender, savory chicken without overpowering the meat or separating. The dish was velvety and luxurious with a dash of freshness, thanks to the dill I sprinkled on top (the one addition I made to the recipe).
Despite the cup-and-a-half of sour cream in this recipe, paprika gives it some unusual health benefits. The spice is high in capsaicin, a phytochemical with anti-inflammatory properties. It’s high in Vitamin C and also has plant enzymes that aid digestion.
I secured the remaining Csemege Fuszerpaprika Orlemeny in a tightly closed plastic bag and put it in my spice drawer … at the front this time. When it’s gone (and I anticipate using it often), I’ll try to order authentic Hungarian paprika from myspicesage.com, from Otto’s Hungarian Import Store & Deli or from La Cuisine, the delectable cooking store in my own neighborhood.
Better yet, I can ask Janet to make another stateside visit. It’s always a gift to see my oldest, dearest friend — especially when she comes bearing paprika.
Although I tried to remain unerringly faithful to Janet’s recipe, I did make a couple of tweaks: I skinned the chicken to avoid what my husband calls “soggy-skin syndrome,” and I seasoned it for several hours before browning. I also showered chopped dill over the finished dish to brighten the flavors.
- 1 3-pound chicken, cut up & skinned
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onions
- 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
- 1 cup chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 cups sour cream
Pat the chicken pieces dry and place in a bowl. Salt and pepper generously, then let the chicken rest, uncovered, in the refrigerator for 4 or 5 hours. (You can skip this step if you’re pressed for time.) Remove the chicken and let it come to room temperature for about an hour before continuing.
In a 10-inch skillet or deep pot, heat the vegetable oil. When hot, add as many chicken pieces as will fit in a single layer, and brown for 3-4 minutes. Turn them over and brown another 3-4 minutes. Remove to a bowl, and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
Pour off the fat, leaving only a thin film. Add the onions and garlic, stirring constantly so the garlic won’t burn. Season with salt and pepper, and saute until the onions are golden, 6-8 minutes.
Return the pan to the heat and add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, stirring in the browned bits from the sides and bottom of the pan.
Add the browned chicken to the pan. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pan tightly. Turn the heat to the lowest setting and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the juice from the largest chicken pieces runs clear.
When the chicken is done, remove it to a platter. In a mixing bowl, whisk the flour into the sour cream. Gently add the sour cream/flour mixture to the simmering pan sauce. Simmer for 6-8 minutes, whisking occasionally, until the sauce is thick and smooth. Return the chicken to the pan for 3-4 minutes, turning it so the sauce coats it evenly.
Transfer to a serving dish, and serve with noodles.