Hungry for Hungary

Friday was Hungarian National Day. Admittedly, at first, I didn’t know what this day represented or meant. It seemed rather harmless and I enjoy exploring other cuisines, so I took it as an opportunity to learn and create something new! As it turns out, this date represents the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. On March 15th, 1848, thousands marched in Pest for reform on social injustice in their country. More information can be found on the Hungarian Initiatives Foundation website here.

Paprikás Csirke (aka Chicken Paprika, aka Chicken Paprikash) is one of those dishes famous in the 60s that just isn’t as prevalent on menus today as it was then. The 60s was an era of global cuisine interest in the US and I sure am glad it was! I remember as a little girl watching old sitcoms on Nick at Nite and hearing about all these dishes that looked and sounded amazing and wondering what they were or tasted like. Shows like Bewitched really enchanted me in more ways than one with the glamorous on-screen lifestyle of the stay-at-home-wife/mom. I always dreamed that one day, I too would be able to stay home and cook elegant meals for my family every day. Reality is a little dimmer than the dream right now, but I still dream we’ll get there one day…

I used a recipe from my Joy of Cooking 75th Anniversary Edition cookbook. One thing I love about the Joy of Cooking is that it generally makes a recipe sound almost always exotic and exciting. Like taking a trip somewhere… It’s written completely different than your average cookbook, but it still has the effect of making the recipes accessible… for the most part.

Since I saw the day noted on the calendar, I felt that Chicken Paprikash was something I should try my hand with. The ingredients are few, but they deliver intense aroma and flavor. This recipe was a simple, straightforward one. It called for chicken pieces, but since we cut the recipe in half, we broke down a fryer bird for the occasion. As a bonus, doing so left me with a carcass I can use later to make soup or broth! This recipe was simple enough that I feel I could comfortable recreate it from memory and think it would be fun to use smoked paprika next!

Par-frying the chicken pieces in their own fat and a little butter renders the flesh a lovely golden color and subsequently setting aside the chicken and adding angel-hair-thin slices of onion to the pan and fat turns them a rich caramel color. Paprika, fresh garlic, chicken broth, and a bay leaf follow to season and spice the deep sauce that ensues. The chicken finishes in the sauce and all is cooked until thick and just when you think you’re finished, a healthy addition of (full fat – anything less is a tease – moderation) sour cream enriches the sauce to top the beautiful golden chicken pieces. A fresh squeeze of lemon finishes it and adds an unexpected lift.

If you’re of the impression paprika has no flavor, you’re probably one of the ones paying $1 for your spices. Stop spending $1 for your spices. They will let you down and they generally lack flavor, thus causing you to use more of the spice to taste what you’re supposed to taste. Thus defeating the purpose. I’m not saying you need to buy the $20/oz paprika, but depending on the size and quality, $3-5/container should do it. Spices for your kitchen are worth the extra. They’ll deliver in flavor and satiety in the long run.

What’s the most unusual spice you’ve ever used/encountered?

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