29 May 2010

Recipe: Chicken Paprikash (or Csirke Paprikás)

I've been promising this recipe for awhile now. I know I keep talking about Chicken Paprikash, and how wonderfully satisfying it is, well, now you can see for yourself! This is such a simple recipe: 5 major ingredients, throw 'em in the crockpot before work, and when you come home, you'll have dinner on the table in 20 minutes!

I don't just love this because of the satisfaction it gives me physically though; it's emotional too. This dish is full of history, and family, and general good-feeling. Everybody has that one dish that connects them to family, and warm memories; this is mine.

A History Lesson

My father and his parents immigrated here from Hungary in the 1950's during the Hungarian Revolution. My father was only 3 years old, so he doesn't remember much about his homeland. But his mother kept it alive in the food she cooked. When I was little, we didn't see my grandmother much. I lived in Massachusetts with my mom, and only saw my dad on alternating weekends. My grandmother lived in New Jersey (apparently there is a huge Hungarian population out there), so trips down were few and far between. Before my parents split up, my brother used to spend summers down there, but I was too young, so I never really got to know my grandmother the same way.

Dinner with Nagymama

Here's what I do remember. That woman knew her way around a stove. Meals with that side of my family were always jam-packed with traditional foods. If you know anything about Hungarian cooking, you know it's hearty, rich, and heavy on the sour cream! After one plate-full, you could probably hibernate for a month and be fine. But of course, Nagymama always offered seconds.

And you had to take them.

And then thirds.

This is the point when you would usually start to try and refuse. It was that or explode (I don't mean that figuratively!). You would say, "Oh, it's delicious, but I can't eat another bite!!"

My Nagymama would get sullen, and downcast. Then she would wail (with her thick Hungarian accent):
"You don't like my cooking!"
So you take thirds. Once you were finally able to escape the dinner table, and go to the guestroom to try and digest, in she would come with a plate loaded with cookies and Fruit Roll-Ups (to this day, I can't see a Fruit Roll-Up without thinking of her).

Connecting with My Heritage

Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away almost 20 years ago. I never did get to know her as well as I would have liked, so I have started learning traditional Hungarian recipes as a way to connect to my heritage. This recipe was adapted from a cookbook from my grandmother's church in New Jersey. Unfortunately I don't have it with me, so I couldn't tell you which church, but I've changed very little. All I did was cut back the salt (the original recipe called for 2 TB!!! Drove my mother crazy...), and adjusted it to cook in a slow cooker; both the traditional and slow-cooker directions are included in the full recipe below, so feel free to skip down if you'd like.

Chicken Paprikash (Csirke Paprikás) - Traditional Method

First, gather your ingredients. Here's what you need:

Say hello to the star of our feature: the chicken. Normally I use chicken thighs - they have great depth of flavor, and only a few bones (this will be important later). The day I picked up this bad boy, the chicken man at the FM was out of thighs. This is actually a "soup chicken." I think that means it was older, therefore more tough, and so it required at least 2 hours of moist cooking.

You'll also need salt, pepper, paprika (Hungarian sweet paprika, please)...

...and an onion. Slice it thinly and set aside.

If you have a half (or whole) chicken, you'll need to disjoint it first (cut it into smaller pieces). I haven't shown the process here, because I don't really have the appropriate tools. If you've purchased just the legs, you're good to go. If you are using a half (or whole) chicken, save some of the fat (trust me on this one).

Season your chicken pieces well, first with salt, then pepper, then paprika. Given that the chicken will be pan seared, it's next-to-impossible to over-season the chicken at this point.

Rend some of the chicken fat in a large saute pan over medium heat. You will use this to brown your chicken (if you've chosen to use thighs, or even chicken breasts, you can always use peanut or olive oil). Brown the chicken on both sides. Be careful not to turn the heat too high, otherwise you might burn the paprika. Just keep it on medium and be patient.

When your chicken is browned, this is what you'll be left with (sniff... beautiful, isn't it?)

Add the onions to the pan drippings, and saute until translucent.

In a stockpot, put your browned chicken, onions, and water. Feel free to add a little extra paprika.

Bring to a simmer, cover, and let it go for at least 2 hours (more if you can). Keep an eye on the water level - don't let it dry out. Once at least 2 hours have passed, remove your chicken, and carefully remove the bones. Set aside the meat, and take a look at the glory left in the pot.




Sorry, got distracted! Ladle off any excess fat...

Don't throw this fat away; it's like red gold! Put it in an airtight container and store in your fridge. It's great for sauteing chicken (shock, I know) or anything else needing a little extra flavor. Add your sour cream, and the shredded chicken to the leftover pan juices, and voila! Your dinner is ready!

Serve over cooked egg noodles with some Hungarian Bikaver wine (or any light bodied red/crisp dry white), good company, and lots of laughter!

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Chicken Paprikash (Csirke Paprikás)

Servings: 4-6 Prep Time: 20 min. Cook Time: 2-4 hours

Here's what you need:

1 large onion, sliced
4 chicken thighs
salt, pepper, and paprika (to taste)
½ cup Water
tapioca starch, cornstarch, or flour (optional)
½ -1 cup sour cream

Here's what you do:

  1. Place thinly sliced onions in the bottom of your slow cooker.
  2. Season both sides of each chicken thigh well with salt, pepper, and paprika (in that order). It’s virtually impossible to over season this dish, as excess seasonings will fall off the thighs, but be aware of your salt nonetheless.

    You can use chicken breasts if you prefer, but I don’t find the flavor as deep. If you DO decide to use chicken breasts, make sure you get the bone-in kind (again, for deeper flavor).
  3. Place your chicken thighs in your slow cooker on top of the onions. Pour the water over the chicken and cover. Cook on low approximately 8 hours, or on high for at least 4 hours. The lower and longer the better. (You can add some tapioca starch at this point to ensure a nice thick gravy at the end – I’ve never done it, but that’s the best starch to use given the low temperatures. Do NOT add cornstarch or flour at this time).
  4. Once the chicken has had time to get delicious and tender, take the chicken pieces from the pot, and remove the bones. This is another benefit to thighs – very few bones! Set the meat aside. Do NOT strain out the liquid!!
  5. Mix the sour cream into the liquid left in the slow cooker. If you desire a thicker sauce, make a slurry out of 1/4 cup water and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, and whisk into the gravy. Bring to a boil in a pot until thickened.
  6. Stir the gravy and the chicken together.

Serve over cooked egg noodles with some Hungarian Bikaver wine (or any light bodied red/crisp dry white), good company, and lots of laughter!

(Traditional method: Season chicken as above then brown on both sides. Remove the chicken and set aside. Add onions to the pan and saute until translucent. Return chicken to the pan along with approximately 1 cup of water, cover, and simmer over low heat for 2 hours. Keep an eye on your water level, adding more if needed. Then follow the remaining steps from step 4 above.)


  1. thanks for sharing such a great recipe, and for the story! I enjoyed reading about your family....my granmother was the same way, she would feed me until I would burst...lol..

  2. Thanks Chef Dennis! Dinner was never complete in that house without a small guilt trip :)


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