Paprikás csirke (pronounced ‘paprikash cheerke‘) is one of the most classic of Hungarian dishes. Named for the large amount of paprika that goes into the sauce, the paprikás method can also be applied to veal, mushrooms, or fish. In fact, according to George Lang in The Cuisine of Hungary, it is one of the four pillars of Hungarian cooking (the others are gulyás, pörkölt, and tokány). “The chief difference between pörkölt and paprikás is that paprikás is usually finished with sweet or sour cream, sometimes mixed with a little flour, but always stirred in just before serving,” writes Lang. “You may never use cream of any kind for gulyás or pörkölt! Also, beef, mutton, game, goose, duck, and pork are most popular for pörkölt; veal and chicken for paprikás.”
Paprikás csirke is a staple of home-cooking and at étkezdes (lunch-rooms), yet it is an elegant dish (but much simpler to prepare than its thick, complex, flavorful sauce suggests). Since it requires so few ingredients, use the best quality chicken and sweet Hungarian paprika that you can find. In Hungary, this dish is usually eaten with galuska (spaetzle), and a cucumber salad in a sweet and sour dressing is a perfect match to the peppery sauce. But you can also serve it with creamy polenta or boiled potatoes sprinkled with parsley. The best type of pot to use is a cast iron casserole, but any pot with a tight fitting lid will do. Cooking the chicken with the skin intact greatly benefits the flavor, so if you prefer your chicken skinless, keep it on during the cooking process and then remove it before serving.
Paprikás Csirke (Paprika Chicken)Serves 4
- 2 large onions, peeled and minced
- 1 ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons of lard (or oil)
- 2-3 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
- 1 kilogram (2 pounds) chicken pieces
- 1 or 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 Hungarian pepper, sliced into rings
- 2 tablespoons sour cream, plus more for garnish if desired
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- Heat the lard (or oil) in the pot, add the onions, sprinkle with half of the salt, and cook, covered, over very low heat until the onions are glossy, but not browned.
- Turn off the heat (so the paprika doesn’t burn and become bitter) and stir in the paprika.
- Add the tomatoes and ½ cup of water and mix.
- Turn the heat back on low and place the chicken pieces in the pot. Sprinkle the remaining salt on the chicken, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes. Check every few minutes to see whether it needs more water, and add a bit if it does.
- Remove the lid, add the sliced peppers, and cook for a further ten minutes.
- In a small bowl, mix the sour cream, flour, and heavy cream.
- Remove the pieces of chicken and place the pieces on a serving platter.
- Add the sour cream mixture to the paprika sauce and stir until blended. Cook for a minute or two, but don’t let the sauce come to a boil. Pour the paprika sauce over the chicken pieces. Garnish with a spoonful of sour cream, if desired, and sprinkle with paprika.