Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hungarian Chirke Paprikas

Throughout my pagan years, I have always been a cooking-oriented sort of person. I've always been a kitchen witch, as it were. I make magic and love in my kitchen, and store it up in the pantry for later consumption. My "spell components" consist of good quality sea salt, imported Hungarian paprika (sweet and hot both), black pepper, garlic powder, onion flakes, parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. There are others, of course, but those are the main ingredients for making the recipes that my family loves most. To the left you can see a can of excellent Hungarian paprika. Of all the Hungarian recipes I post, I use ONLY this brand of paprika, and it's in every recipe. Szeged makes both hot and sweet (pictured is sweet) and I keep these cans on hand always. I just wish I could find it in larger containers.... that one is only the size of two regular spice jars, and the way I use it, it disappears rapidly.  Also, the pictures are of the cabbage dish, not the chicken recipe, just because I didn't think to take photos until the chicken was in the oven!

Hungarian paprika is not like American paprika. It has flavor, very distinct, somewhat smokey, and the hot is quite hot. It has a very rich color, not red, but more like a burgundy shade. It even smells different from the American stuff, with an aroma that tickles the nose with a slight peppery tease.

Today, I want to share two recipes with you that my grandmother taught me. I don't cook them the way she did (lard is not considered good for us when we're not working as tobacco farmhands!), but the flavor is spot on (just as good as hers, she said). Chirke paprikas (paprika chicken) is a savory chicken dish made with cut up whole chicken, or just about any pieces you have laying around. The cabbage dish doesn't have a name, but goes along well with this or most other Hungarian recipes. It's a favorite here.

For the chicken, you want to get a whole cut up fryer, or whatever pieces you like. I've made it with whole, with just thighs, and even with cut up breasts! It's a very flexible recipe, but if you use all white meat and no bone, be sure to add a bit extra liquid to keep it moist. Rinse the chicken pieces and pat them dry, and set them aside. In the bottom of an oven-safe pot (I use a cast iron dutch oven) with a lid, spritz with Pam or another non-stick spray, and then lay out a layer of cheap bacon. This is NOT the time for your expensive bacon, the wood smoked hickory flavored goodness should be reserved for Saturday mornings with pancakes. You want fatty bacon here, because you want flavor and fat, NOT meat. We use the bargain bin bacon from the local grocer. Put a layer of chicken onto the bacon, and then a layer of diced or sliced onions (your preference). I like to add slices of garlic as well, or if I'm in a rush I'll throw in a couple of tablespoons of the pre-diced jarred garlic. Sprinkle with a touch of salt and pepper, then layer on the paprika until everything is RED. Do not sprinkle the paprika - paint with it. You cannot use too much paprika in this. If you decide you want it a bit spicier, you can add a sprinkle of the HOT Hungarian paprika, but this dish is best made with the mild in my opinion.

Keep layering with bacon, chicken, onions, spices until you run out of chicken. Make sure that the last layer is bacon, and that you put paprika on that, too. Here's where my recipe differs from my grandmother's, by the way. I don't add a half pound of lard right now. I add chicken broth (I use home made, but canned is fine). Fill up your pot until you can just see the liquid. If you have breasts, make sure they're on the bottom, as they'll be submerged and will be more tender. If you have ALL breasts in this, fill the broth up until it touches the top layer, and add extra bacon on top to keep it moist. You'll thank me later. All that said, if you're stuck, you can even make this with water, or water mixed with a bit of soy sauce or wine.

Put the pot'o'goodness into the oven at 350F for about an hour, with a lid on. After that, check frequently (about every 15 minutes) to make sure the water doesn't evaporate. You can take the lid off, too. Poke around in the pot and see how tender your meat is. If you have thighs with backs attached, you'll know it's ready when the meat starts to fall off the bones!

Take the chicken out, and put it on a high-sided platter or serving dish. Drape some of the bacon over it if you like! Now, take a container of sour cream and put it into a large mixing/serving bowl. Start adding a couple of tablespoons of the liquid at a time to the sour cream, and mix with a whisk. Continue doing this until the sauce is the right thickness for you (I like it to be thick enough to still be 'gravy' but thin enough to pour). You may need to add a bit of paprika and salt to this, but it's up to you. Taste it and decide for yourself! Pour a bit of this over the platter of chicken, add a sprig of parsley, and serve piping hot, with the remainder of the gravy in a boat on the side.

Now, on to the cabbage you've been looking at! Again, we're going to replace my grandmother's lard with chicken broth. Into the bottom of a large pot (large enough to hold your cabbage!), pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and add a few bits of raw bacon. Saute until they are mostly cooked, and then add some diced or sliced onion. I usually put in one large onion per head of cabbage (and my cabbage is generally the size of three fists together, though the one pictured is about two-fist size). Add a bit of garlic, some paprika (okay, a LOT of paprika), salt and pepper, and then let the onions cook until they begin to soften and go clear (see second picture).

While the onions cook, take your cabbage and slice it into thin ribbons. You don't have to be particular; it's going to turn mostly to mush anyhow. I usually make them about finger wide, and I don't worry about length (see the fourth picture above). When the onions are ready, pop your cabbage right into the pot, and add some more paprika. When all the cabbage is in (it usually takes me 3 or 4 iterations of chopping/adding to get there), give it a good stir to mix everything together. If it isn't RED you want to add more paprika (yes, as a matter of fact that IS the secret of good Hungarian cooking! lol).

Pour in enough chicken broth to just cover all the contents of your pot. Bring it to a full boil, stir a couple of times, then set it to simmer (no lid) at a low heat. If you want it to be ready in an hour, when your chicken is probably ready, keep it at a medium heat and stick around to stir it frequently. Add liquid as needed, although your end product should have almost no liquid in it at all! Don't let it burn. This can also be put on a very low heat (provided there are still bubbles in the liquid) to simmer for a longer time. The longer the simmer, the richer the flavor.

This dish is ready when the cabbage is soft and falling apart, quite red, and the liquid is almost all gone. The last little while you'll have to stick around and stir to keep it from burning. It's a good time to make your 'gravy' for the chicken! Taste to see if it needs more salt or pepper - sometimes I add a bit, other times I don't.

These two dishes are often served together, along side some corn with butter, a nice, warm crusty bread, and egg noodles or spetzel. We usually pour the gravy over the chicken and noodles, and put fresh sour cream onto the top of the whole thing. It's a very easy dish to make, doesn't require a lot of finicky preparation, and tastes like you spent all day in the kitchen. You WILL be asked to make this again, and again, and again...
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