Friday, October 19, 2012

An Old Slovak Recipe

I am currently dedicating myself to making all the foods I grew up with and getting photos of them.  It is incredible to think how I have taken for granted all these foods.  The family knows what they are, what they look like, and what they taste like.  Why take a photo?  All that is changing for me now.

Last night I dedicated to making Chicken Paprikas (or Paprikash, if you will), a recipe that came down from my Slovakian Grandmother.  I cannot begin to count how many times I have eaten this dish in my lifetime.  A hundred, for sure.  There was no actual written recipe that I ever knew of, so while I had the "recipe" in a family cookbook I made, the ingredients were a broad range of possibilities.  "Lots of paprika" is probably too vague for most!

Chicken Paprikas
First I decided to cut up a whole chicken and have my husband take photos of how it is done.  I don't know if I will ever need this sequence, but now I have it!  I am sure there are plenty of new cooks out there who haven't had the opportunity to cut up a chicken.  When I started out cooking 40 years ago, I really appreciated how-to photos. 

The recipe needs to be made with a whole chicken, or whole pieces of chicken, because the bones and skin really give all the flavor to the broth.  (I tried it once with just boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  It was not very good that way.)  I took the time to measure exactly how much of everything I used and write it down for the very first time.  I took photos every step of the way, too.  It turned out perfect, and perfectly seasoned, as I remember it.  I hope my Grandma would be proud!  Here is the photo of my dinner last night.

Chicken Paprikas

Makes at least 6 - 8 servings

1 whole chicken, cut up
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 - 4 cloves garlic, sliced or smashed

4  tablespoons sweet Hungarian Paprika
2½ cups water
1½ teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
½ cup flour for thickening
1 cups milk

Chicken Paprikas over Rice
Chicken Paprikas served over rice, above
Making Paprikas, below

Making Paprikas
Making Paprikas

Cut up the chicken into the usual pieces; wing, breast, thigh, leg. Slice the onion thinly, and then cut the slices into quarter rounds.

Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch Oven; add the onions and saute till softened. Add chicken pieces and brown slightly on one side. Turn chicken pieces over and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the paprika onto the browned side of the chicken. Make sure that all the exposed surface of the chicken is fairly well covered. Once the second side of the chicken is browned, turn over once again and repeat with 1 more tablespoon paprika till this surface is also fairly well covered. Push these chicken pieces to one side, piling to keep out of the way and add in the rest of the chicken, repeating the browning process, and sprinkling with another tablespoon of paprika per side.

Add water to the pot till the chicken is nearly covered. Add salt and some pepper, if desired; bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until the chicken is done and will easily be pulled off the bones, about 1 to 1½ hours. Remove chicken pieces from the pot and set aside to cool slightly, reserving the broth in the pot. If there is too much fat floating on the top of the soup, use paper towels to skim off some of it. Whisk together the milk with the flour till fairly lump free. Place a strainer over the remaining pot of simmering broth, and pour the milk/flour slurry into the strainer, at the same time whisking the simmering liquid briskly, to thicken without lumps forming. This may take a little juggling if your strainer isn't long enough to hang across the pot! If so, pour some of the milk/ flour mixture into the strainer, whisk until incorporated, and pour in a little more and whisk some more. The goal is to have thickened the "soup" in the pot to a gravy. Mix until the milk/flour has been cooked in. Taste. Add salt if needed. t this point the mixture should be a lovely pinkish color from all the paprika. If not, add more paprika! Maintain a low simmer. Remove all the skin and bones from the chicken pieces. Tear the chicken into medium shreds. Add the chicken back into the pot and reheat. Serve over mashed potatoes or white rice.

NOTES: This dish must be made with whole chicken, on the bone. This is what makes the dish so flavorful. In the interest of a healthier outcome, I have tried using just boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The final product had no flavor at all. As a thought, possibly using chicken stock rather than water to cook it might help, but I strongly recommend using a whole cut up chicken.

In every other recipe for "Chicken Paprikash" I have ever seen, the step with the milk and flour added to thicken is conspicuously missing, yet there is always the addition of heavy cream or sour cream to the dish at the end. I have to wonder if Grandma, having made this through Depression times, had no cream or sour cream at hand, and substituted thickening it with the milk and flour? No way to be sure at this point in time. Out of curiosity though, I have added some sour cream at the end of making the dish Mom and Grandma's way, and Yum, it is good!

Mom always, always served this with cranberry sauce. The flavors are so ingrained in my mind together.

Mom also, very occasionally, would substitute veal stew meat for the chicken in this recipe, and then it was called "Veal Paprikas."

Mom never cooked with fresh garlic, but I learned to use and love it. I add in a couple of cloves of garlic, minced just before adding the water to the browned chicken to cook.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.