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It might be difficult to name prominent Hungarian dishes other than, say, goulash, but here's one you can't afford to miss: chicken paprikash (chicken paprika), a classic Hungarian stew flavored with, you guessed it, paprika. Paprika is made from dried red peppers or chili peppers, and isn't as hot as chili powder. Paprika is used often in Hungarian cuisine, as seen in this dish. Here, paprika is the star of a luxurious sauce that permeates tender braised chicken. To temper the paprika, sour cream is added at the end.
This recipe is adapted from a treasured cookbook of mine, the Gourmet Cookbook (I think of it as my "gourmet" version of Joy of Cooking). I've made it before and it's terrific, but in making it again this time, I looked more closely to see if there were any improvements I could make.
Chicken Preparation: The Longer the Better
The easiest and most efficient way to deal with the chicken is to just toss it in the pot to cook. But is this the best way to get lots of paprika flavor into the meat? Chicken doesn't need to braise for hours like a piece of beef or pork does, which leaves it less time to soak up flavor. To add flavor, I made up a simple rub of paprika and salt, and then set two batches of chicken to marinade/brine, one at 30 minutes, and one overnight. I compared both to chicken that was simply tossed in the pot.
As expected, the chicken that sat in the rub the longest was the most flavorful. I couldn't get enough of it—I probably could've eaten the whole pot. The salt made the chicken juicier and seemed to make the skin less fatty—the skin became paper thin and rendered deliciously. Browning the chicken before braising only adds to that flavor.
My conclusion: this dish is plenty flavorful if you don't have the time to let the chicken rest, but you'll be rewarded if you do.
The Sauce: Classic and True
The paprika used in chicken paprikash is usually of the sweet variety. This way you can relish in the most chili pepper/red bell pepper flavor possible without any heat stinging your lips off. The sauce may also include onions, fresh red bell peppers, and flour to thicken. It may be surprising, but these few, simple elements create a most flavorful sauce. It's so delicious that I was tempted to scrap the sour cream for fear of mellowing it too much. In the end I kept it, as I couldn't resist the rich creaminess that it imparted.
Sprinkle with a dusting of parsley, serve with traditional egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or rice, and you've got a hearty chicken stew that on a cold night will warm you up just right.