The next post in my series about winter stews is one from my childhood. Mom, always looking to expose us to new foods while keeping an eye on the family food budget, often served ‘Chicken Paprikash’ during the chilly winter months in Michigan. Its funny how many international classics ended up on the tables of Midwestern families I think mostly due to the fact that they often came from country and peasant populations where there wasn’t a lot of extra money to spend on food. “Paprikash” comes from the Hungarian word for paprika, and describes a range of stew-like dishes made with meat, onions, lots of paprika, and sour cream. Tomatoes are not found in the authentic Hungarian dish, which gets all of its red-orange hue from paprika, but you will hardly find a paprikash anywhere in America that does not include tomatoes. It is also one of the few dishes in the world that takes its name from a spice – in this case, the spice that became the backbone of Hungarian cuisine. Originally imported from Turkey, the peppers that are dried and ground into paprika have been grown in southern Hungary for nearly 500 years.
Paprika is a powder made from grinding the pods of various kinds of Capsicum annuum peppers.
Used for flavor and color, it is the fourth most consumed spice in the world and often appears in spice mixes, rubs, marinades, stews, chili, and as a garnish.
Depending on the variety of pepper and how it is processed, the color can range from bright red to brown and the flavor from mild to spicy. Therefore, it is helpful to know the distinct qualities that each type of paprika can bring to a dish.
Most of the paprika sold in grocery stores are simply labeled “paprika”. Its origins may be Hungarian, Californian, or South American, and it is sometimes mixed with other chiles like cayenne. This paprika tends to be neither sweet nor hot and is a suitable garnish for things like deviled eggs or wherever you want some color.
Alternatively, paprika is considered the national spice of Hungary and it appears in the country’s most celebrated dish, goulash. Hungarian paprika is made from peppers that are harvested and then sorted, toasted, and blended to create different varieties.
All Hungarian paprikas have some degree of rich, sweet red pepper flavor, but they range in pungency and heat. When making Paprikash you really should buy some true Hungarian paprika. Amazon carries several the best of which is the ‘Pride of Szeged’ brand. If you’re going to make this dish don’t dig out the jar that has been sitting in your cupboard for 3 years. The aroma and flavor tends to dissipate a couple months after opening so invest in some of the good stuff!
Pride of Szeged Paprika
Anyway, over the years of making this dish I’ve slowly transformed it into something different but I think with more personality. It’s still driven by the richness of paprika but I no longer use sour cream or tomatoes, instead, I’ve added turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon to it along with sweet golden raisins and green olives and now call it ‘Basque Chicken’ although it reminds me of some regional Mexican chicken dishes I’ve had so I normally serve it with stewed pinto beans and Mexican style red rice. I prefer using boneless, skinless chicken thighs as it’s easier to eat and leftovers make a great taco filling… Buen Provecho!
Recipe – Basque Chicken
» 8 each Boneless, skinless thighs
» 2 TBS Olive oil, duck or bacon fat
» 1 each Medium onion, diced ¼”
» 6 each Peeled garlic cloves, smashed
» 2 TBS Good Hungarian paprika
» ¼ tsp. Turmeric
» 1 TBS Ground cumin
» 2 cups Chicken stock
» ¼ cup Golden raisins
» 1 TBS Honey
» ¼ cup Pitted green olives
» 2 TBS Chopped cilantro
Season the chicken thighs on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat oil in large, heavy bottom sauce or braising pan. Add chicken, being careful not to crowd, until they are well browned on all sides. Remove chicken and add onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently over low heat for 10 minutes. Add paprika, turmeric, and cumin and cook for another 2 minutes to release the flavors and aromas. Return chicken to pan and add enough chicken stock to barely cover. Add raisins and honey, stir, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low simmer and cook uncovered for 30-40 minutes. Stir in olives and sprinkle with cilantro just before serving.