What is Chicken Paprikash?
Going back to its origins in Hungary, the dish is called “Paprikás Csirke”, which literally means “Paprika Chicken.” As the name would imply, its namesake spice plays a major role in the flavor of the dish, which gives it a similar flavor profile to other Hungarian stews such as Goulash.
Like its Russian cousin Beef Stroganoff, this Magyar classic has managed to work its way from relative obscurity into the hearts and stomachs of comfort food seekers around the world. For my version, I like to make it with bone-in pieces of chicken, fresh green peppers, sour cream, and of course: tons of paprika.
Ingredients for Chicken Paprikash
While chicken breast meat can be delicious when cooked to the right temperature, it’s very lean, which is why it gets dry and mealy when overcooked. Since stews like this Chicken Paprikash require longer cooking times, I highly recommend using leg meat such as thighs and drumsticks.
I also recommend using bone-in skin-on chicken which not only adds more flavor to the sauce, it also keeps the chicken moist and juicy. The one exception is if you are in a hurry. It won’t be quite as flavorful, but you can shave about thirty minutes off the cooking time if you use boneless thigh meat cut into cubes. Just follow all the same steps and reduce the amount of chicken to about 600 grams.
You’ll want to use good Hungarian paprika. I’m not saying this because I have a problem with paprika from other countries (I have four cans of Spanish paprika in the pantry). Nor is this about some misguided loyalty to the dish’s roots. My 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 going from smoky to fruity, the paprika landscape can get a little confusing.
Thankfully in Hungary, the national spice is divided into eight grades, each one with its 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 a stunning vermillion hue; perfect for Chicken Paprikash.
While paprika provides the primary flavoring for its eponymous dish, I first learned to make this dish from a Hungarian lady who always added some fresh green peppers to her Paprikash. The difference between red peppers and green ones is how ripe they are when they’re picked. This is why red peppers tend to be sweeter while green peppers tend to have a more concentrated flavor than their fully ripened counterparts.
I’ve tried making this with and without adding fresh peppers, and I’ve found that adding green peppers gives the dish a more robust flavor. I used a local variety of green chili called Piiman, but any mild green pepper such as Bell, Cubanelle, or Yellow Wax Peppers (a.k.a. Banana peppers) will work.
Chicken Paprikash is finished off with a generous dollop of sour cream. This adds a mild tang, balancing out the richness of the stew while imparting a roundness that adds depth and dimension to this humble dish. It won’t be quite the same, but if you’re trying to cut back on fat, a strained yogurt does a pretty decent job as a substitute for sour cream. Finally, if you need to make this kosher, you can use raw cashew nuts pureed with water and a bit of lemon juice in a blender to approximate the richness and acidity of the sour cream.
How to Make Chicken Paprikash
For my Paprika Chicken, I like to build a strong foundation of umami by browning the chicken in batches. Then the onions and peppers get caramelized in the same pot. To this base layer of flavor, the paprika gets added and sauteed for a few seconds. The high temperature helps the spice release its full bouquet of aromas, particularly if your paprika isn’t the freshest. Just be careful not to burn it as it’s easy to do, and will make your sauce bitter.
Next, some chicken stock goes in before the chicken gets added back and simmered until the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender. Finally, a roux of sour cream and flour is made to thicken the sauce, but you don’t want to add it directly to the stew. Since adding cold sour cream to a hot liquid will make it curdle, it’s important to temper the mixture by slowly introducing the hot cooking liquid to the roux until it is warm, before adding it to the pot.
What to serve with Chicken Paprikash
The classic pairing is a small Hungarian dumpling called Nokedli. They’re made with eggs and flour and can be prepared from scratch while you’re waiting for the chicken to cook. In the US, Paprika Chicken is usually served with egg noodles, but I find the craggy surface of Nokedli is better suited for hanging onto the delicious Paprikash sauce. Other suitable options include boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, rice, or bread.
- 1 kilogram chicken (12 drumsticks and thighs)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 275 grams onion (1 large onion, chopped)
- 100 grams mild green pepper (1 large pepper, seeds removed & chopped)
- 30 grams paprika (~1/4 cup)
- 1 cup
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- Use paper towels to dry the chicken thoroughly. Reducing the moisture content on the surface of the chicken is essential to get it to brown.
- Sprinkle the chicken evenly with the salt and black pepper.
- Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat until hot. Add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan.
- When the pot is hot, 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 (about 5-7 minutes).
- Flip the chicken 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 to the pot. Stir to distribute evenly and then cover with a lid to let the vegetables steam for about 10 minutes.
- Remove the lid and saute the onions until they are golden brown.
- Add the paprika and fry, continually stirring for about 10 seconds. Paprika burns easily and will become bitter, so be careful not to burn it.
- Add the chicken stock and then return the chicken to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Cover with a lid and turn down the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook the chicken until it is tender (about 45 minutes).
- While you're waiting for the chicken to cook, mix the sour cream and flour in a bowl until it's free of lumps.
- 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. Taste the sauce and add some more salt if needed. The paprika chicken is done when the sauce has thickened.