My son Mike is home for the weekend and I think we all know what that means. I’m making chicken paprikash today.
Chicken paprikash is Mike’s favorite thing, his reason for living (or at least his reason for flying down to Florida on a rare four days off work, racing through the airport to catch a connecting flight, insisting on bursting through the doors and sprinting onto a plane that is ready to taxi. Without any toothpaste).
At about 1:30 a.m. Thursday night shortly after he arrived, my husband and I were discussing what to have for dinners. He began to list the top choices: Going out to get seafood, going to Carmine’s for Italian, grilling goat cheese chicken (one of the most awesome grill foods invented) and - I piped up with - “I could make chicken paprikash.”
“Yesssssssss!” came Mike’s response.
Chicken paprikash is Hungarian and something my mom used to make for my brother’s birthday dinner every October 26 and about five or six times more throughout the year. My mom wasn’t Hungarian, but she could take on the ethnic traits of everyone from Albanians to Zimbabwaianians when she was cooking. She was like the Agent Smith of international cuisine. She made better homemade pierogies than Mrs. Wasylko, better homemade spaghetti sauce than Rita Fusco and better cheese souffle than anyone else in Hubbard, possibly because there were no French people living there.
When she made chicken paprikash, the chicken, paprika, onions, tomatoes, green pepper, flour and eggs would start out on our kitchen counter and then a few hours later, the finished dish of chicken paprikash would magically appear on the table, usually with a salad or broccoli. It was magical.
When I make it, not so magical. It’s a bear to make this recipe. There are three main components - the chicken, the sauce and the spaetzle, which we like to call simply ‘dumplings.’ I suspect the reason my kids like chicken paprikash is really because of the spaetzle. But you can’t just make spaetzle dumplings and try to serve them with butter or whatever. The beauty of this is the combination of the spaetzle covered in the sauce, which can’t be made without the chicken. So you’re really tied into the whole package.
Because I never learned my mom’s magical way of making chicken paprikash, there are no fairies involved, no sparkly dust, no nose twitching or blinking, I have to make it the way the old Hungarian women used to make it before their husbands came in from the fields at lunch time and beat them senseless.
First get the biggest pots you have. They won’t be big enough, but try anyway. In the first one, melt a stick of butter and put in some pieces of chicken - I use two of the largest packages of Pic-O-the-Chic that I can find, and throw away the back, any internal organs that have been placed in paper in the package, and any pieces that have freakish amounts of skin or look like they didn’t thoroughly kill the chicken before sending its body parts down the assembly line. And feathers are a deal breaker. Stop now to take out the garbage, because those gizzards will smell within a matter of minutes.
Cook the chicken for a while, in batches, turning it over and sprinkling in some salt and pepper when you feel like it. When the chicken gets brown, take the pieces out and put them in the largest 9-by-13-type glass pan that you can find. It won’t be big enough, but try anyway. The pot will now contain a shit load of butter, chicken fat and pieces of chicken skin that have stuck to the bottom. Add to that a bunch of chopped green pepper, about three large onions chopped and a large tomato chopped.
Stir this around in the fat. It will start to smell really good.
Now get your second largest pot and fill it with water and put it on the other burner to start to boil. This is for the spaetzle later.
Back to Pot #1: When the onion, tomato and pepper are soft-ish and wilted, put in about as much Hungarian paprika that you think is good and then add two heaping tablespoons more. You know what they say in Hungary - “The redder the better!” Add about 2 cups of chicken broth and stir it around. Put the chicken in with this sauce and flip it around a little to coat all the chicken pieces. Put the lid on Pot #1 and turn the fire down to low and let it simmer for an hour.
Now go rest and watch half of a Law & Order while you’re waiting for the water in Pot #2 to boil, because you’re about to make spaetzle.
Get the largest bowl you can find. It won’t be big enough, but it has to be, so just do this. Put eight cups of flour, eight eggs, 4 teaspoons of salt and 2 2/3 cups of water in the bowl and whisk it like a mother, until it is smooth and glossy. By this time your sweat will start to drip into the batter. This and the occasional chin hair that falls in are what gives it that Hungarian flavor.
Check on your chicken. Lift up the lid and gently stir the chicken around the sauce. Doesn’t it smell good?
If your water in Pot #2 is boiling now, get a step stool from the laundry room and set it in front of the pot. You’re too short to make these dumplings in this pot because Pot #2 is the tall skinny one and you’re only 5’2” and shrinking weekly.
Pour some of the spaetzle batter onto a flat wooden cutting board. Carefully climb up the step stool and set the edge of the cutting board on the edge of Pot #2. With a sharp, flat knife, scrape a bit of the batter - about the size of one of your fingernails - into the boiling water. Do this until your arm is tired and then get a slotted spoon and lift out the dumplings that have floated to the top. This means that they’re done. Put them in the largest 9-by-13-type glass pan you can find, put some butter on them and stick them in the oven on ‘warm.’ Put more dough on the cutting board and climb back up the ladder and scrape some more into the boiling water. Repeat this, taking the finished dumplings to the oven, until your batter is gone and you’ve lost 2 pounds and feel the effects of the revitalizing facial you’ve just gotten.
Occasionally stir the spaetzle dumplings and add more butter so they don’t stick together. Now, take the chicken out of the sauce and put it right on top of the dumplings. With the sauce still in Pot #1, add a container of sour cream - and don’t bother using lite or light or non-fat sour cream. You’re in too deep here. It would be pointless. Whisk it around. If the sauce is too thin, take a coffee cup and scoop up some of the sauce and add some flour to it, stir it around until it dissolves and put that back into the pot to thicken it. Don’t put plain flour into the pot, because it will ball up and you’ll have little balls of flour in your sauce.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and the dumplings. Call Mike to come and eat. The chicken paprikash is ready. Your kitchen is full of dirty dishes, your stove top will need therapy, and the spaetzle batter is melding itself to your big bowl and may never come off without Goo Gone, but whoever your cooking for is going to love the dinner you just cooked for them.
Tomorrow morning, you’ll see why this recipe makes so many dumplings. They’re delicious with coffee in the morning.
Bon Appetit! Or, to quote an old Hungarian saying: “Wait, it is not that bad.”
Labels: chicken paprikash, cooking, cooking chicken, dumplings, how to make chicken paprikash, Hungarian cooking, Hungarian food, spaetzle