The history and culture of different foods is a funny thing. Take paprika for example. While there are many types of paprika, from the simple mild paprika that is great for adding color to deviled eggs, to richer paprikas from Spain and Hungary, most people immediately associate the spice with Hungary, where it is considered the national spice. Yet the various capsicum annuum plants that are the basis of paprika were not introduced to Hungary, or Europe for that matter, until after the discovery of the Americas. It came in only one variety – HOT – until the 1920s when a sweeter variety of the the plant was discovered by a Hungarian breeder in the city of Szeged (yep, the very name that appears on the most popular brand of Hungarian paprika in the U.S. Coincidence? Unlikely.).
Hungarian paprika comes in 8 different grades of flavor, which the Kitchn does a great job of explaining here, although state-side we generally can only find sweet, hot, and – if you are lucky – smoked. In fact recently, it took me nearly a month to find a new tin of Hungarian sweet paprika. I checked Wegman’s in Virginia, 3 different stores here in D.C. and all I could find was plain paprika. It wasn’t until I was wandering aimlessly through the grocery store near my office that my eye was drawn to that lovely bright red rectangular box that clearly marks the presence of Hungarian paprika.
The best way to highlight the flavors of a new tin of Hungarian paprika is chicken paprikash served over späetzle or wide egg noodles. I prefer my paprikash with skinless, boneless chicken thighs, although any type of chicken can be used. Furthermore, if you aren’t the type to own 2 different types of paprika, you can substitute cayenne pepper for the hot paprika in the recipe with little side effect.
1½ tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 to 1½ pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 large onion
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
Kosher salt & pepper
2 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
½ tsp. hot Hungarian paprika (or cayanne pepper)
1½ tbsp fresh thyme (preferably German)
3 cups chicken stock
14 ounce can diced tomatoes
half a medium head of savoy cabbage
1 cup sour cream
1) Place butter and olive oil in a heavy bottom pan, like a dutch oven, over medium-high heat. Once butter has melted, swirl to combine with oil.
2) Place chicken pieces in the pan and brown both sides. Chicken pieces do not need to be cooked through. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
3) While the chicken is browning, thinly slice onions length-wise (root to tip). Add the onions and garlic to the pan after the chicken has been removed. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4) Stir in paprikas, thyme, and salt & pepper to taste. I use about 1 teaspoon of hot paprika in my dish, although I recommend starting with ½ a teaspoon and adding more later if desired. Cook for about a minute, scrapping up bits from the bottom so they do not burn.
5) De-glaze pan with chicken stock and stir in tomatoes. Add chicken pieces back to pot and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 1 hour, uncovered (I cover my pot at an angle, so steam can release but tomato splatters all over the oven are kept to a minimum).
6) After the stew has been simmering for about an hour, slice your cabbage into thin ribbons about ¼ of an inch wide. Remove an particularly touch pieces near the core and add the rest to the pot, stirring well. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes.
7) Remove pan from heat and stir in 1 cup of sour cream. Serve over egg noodles or späetzle.