Chicken Paprikash (Paprikás Csirke) is one of those dishes that's simple and yet so good that it's managed to work its way from a relatively obscure cuisine onto the world stage as a classic comfort food. Like any dish that travels from its homeland, Chicken Paprikash has undergone some changes as it's wandered its way out of Hungary, but I like the original, made with whole pieces of chicken, peppers, sour cream, and of course a ton of its eponymous spice: paprika.
To be specific, you'll want to use a Hungarian paprika. I'm not recommending this because I don't like paprika from other countries (I have 3 cans of Spanish paprika in the pantry), or out of some misguided loyalty to the dish's roots. The recommendation is merely a practical one as there are so many different kinds of paprika. With colors ranging from orange to blood red, tastes running from spicy to sweet and flavors from smoky to fruity the paprika landscape can get a little confusing.
Thankfully in Hungary, its national spice is divided into eight grades, each one with its own unique characteristics. The one that's most commonly found in the US is called édes nemes or "noble sweet" which is full-bodied, fruity and boasts a stunning shade of vermillion; perfect for Paprikash.
For my version, I like to build a strong foundation of umami by browning the chicken and then caramelizing the onions and peppers. To this, I add a generous dose of paprika which gets sautéed to release it's full bouquet of aromas. The chicken gets simmered in chicken stock until it's fall-off-the-bone tender and then the Paprikash is finished off with a generous helping of sour cream with a little flour added to help thicken the sauce. One important thing to note is that if you add cold sour cream to a hot liquid it will curdle. That's why it's important to temper the sour cream by slowly introducing hot cooking liquid to the cream until it is warm before adding it to the pan.
With luscious tender pieces of chicken in a breathtakingly fragrant sauce, this Chicken Paprikash is utterly comforting. Serve it with some Nokedli (a.k.a. Spaetzle), boiled potatoes or bread for a marvelous mid-winter meal that will warm your home with its spirit lifting aroma.
- Use paper towels to thoroughly dry the chicken. Reducing the moisture content on the surface of the chicken is essential to get it to brown.
- Sprinkle the chicken evenly with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.
- Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the butter, swirl to coat the pan, and then add the chicken in a single layer being careful not to overcrowd the pan. If they don't all fit in your pan, divide the chicken into two batches.
- Leave the chicken undisturbed until golden brown on one side (5-7 minutes), and then flip them over and brown the other side. Repeat with the rest of the chicken if necessary.
- Transfer the chicken to a bowl and then add the onions and peppers. Cover with a lid and let the vegetables steam for 10 minutes. This speeds up the caramelization process.
- Remove the lid and saute until the onions are golden brown.
- Add the paprika and fry, stirring constantly until the paprika is very fragrant (about 30 seconds). Be careful as paprika will scorch easily, which will make it bitter.
- Add the chicken stock and salt and then return the chicken pieces back to the pot along with any accumulated juices.
- Bring to a boil, and then cover with a lid and turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook the chicken until it is fall-off-the-bone tender (about 1 hour).
- While you're waiting for the chicken to cook, measure out the sour cream and flour and then whisk together until there are no lumps of flour.
- When the chicken is done, temper the sour cream by transferring some cooking liquid from the chicken a spoonful at a time to the cream mixture and stirring after each addition. You want to slowly raise the temperature of the sour cream until it is very warm. Once the sour cream is tempered, you can pour it all back into the pot and stir to combine. Do not let it boil once you've added the sour cream. The Paprikas is done when the sauce has thickened.