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Cooking the Book: Chicken Paprikash

2012 March 20

Way back in my early intern days, I had two terrific roommates with whom I took turns cooking. Okay, one of them and I took turns cooking while the other knew she couldn’t cook to save her life and was on the permanent clean-up brigade… But we would have friends over for dinner on nights we weren’t working late or trying to appear cooler than the Midwestern barely-legals that we were in an Adams Morgan bar. We thought ourselves quite grown up and our dinners — with discussion of the election and how awesome we were to be in DC for it — rather sophisticated. My two most-often requested dinners from those days were a tequila-lime chicken with a black bean and corn salsa (admittedly frozen corn, a can of black beans, a glug of salsa and not much else) and a “paprika chicken” recipe I think I got from a Redbook magazine picked up in the check-out line.

The first thing a mouthful of this chicken paprikash made me think of was how sorry I am for serving that rubbery chicken in gritty sauce to my broke, starving friends. Sure, there are plenty of excuses: I was in my early 20s, general food enthusiasm/snobbery hadn’t hit the peak it enjoys today, I wasn’t aware such a thing as smoked paprika even existed. Being broke and starving, none of us knew any better, really.

But if I get the chance, I would make it up to them with this creamy, tangy deliciousness.

The Good

Using bone-in chicken breasts keeps the meat moist. The combination of red peppers, onions, tomato paste and paprika not only makes for a sauce with a great balance of tangy and sweet, it is also very pretty, and who doesn’t appreciate pretty food (nighttime photos from the dimly-lit Kitchenette do not do this sauce justice)?

Since there was only a little bit of regular/sweet paprika left in the spice rack, I used half smoked paprika and half plain ol’ McCormick’s . It worked out well and I highly recommend it. While I’m totally obsessed with the awesomeness that is smoked paprika, using only smoked might be overwhelming.

The Bad

Then there’s the whole skin-on thing. This recipe instructs you to cook the chicken with the skin on but later remove it, least it become flabby and greasy. Of course I don’t want flabby greasy chicken skin in my paprikash. But I also don’t want to have to cut possibly still hot, greasy chicken skin off the breast in the middle of making dinner. I understand the skin’s contribution to the fond and flavor and so on and so forth, but it might be a bit much for the home cook. If we get an hankering for paprikash in the Kitchenette again, I think I’ll stick with the bone-in but cut the skin off early and add a little more oil to the pan to prevent sticking.

The plateful of noodles, sauce and chicken-on-the-bone was a little unwieldy but I’ll take unwieldy over dried out any day. And part of the problem there may have been the shockingly large chicken pieces.

The Leftovers

We ended up with a lot of sauce and noodles left over — probably a full cup and a half — even after the gargantuan chicken bosoms were drowned in sauce and consumed. Though this might seem like a great thing if you like the sauce (which I did), it made for an unsatisfying snack without the chicken when reheated. Though it did reheat pretty well.

Chicken Paprikash

Serves 2

From Cooking for 2, 2011

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds bone in, skin-on split chicken beasts, trimmed and cut in half and/or chicken thighs, trimmed, brined if desired

salt and pepper

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 onion, minced

1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced into 1/4-inch strips

2 Tablespoons paprika

1 garlic clove, minced

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

1 Tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1/3 cup sour cream

Method

Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown chicken on both sides, about 10 minutes; transfer to plate. When chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard skin.

Stir onion and bell pepper into fat left in skillet and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in paprika and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato paste and flour and cook for one minute. Whisk in broth, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil.

Return browned chicken with any accumulated juices, to skillet, cover and simmer over low heat until breast pieces register 160 to 165 degrees and/or thighs register 175 on instant read thermometer, 20 to 25 minutes.

Transfer chicken to plate, tent loosely with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, off heat, stir sour cream into sauce until incorporated and season with salt and pepper to taste. Return chicken to pan, turn to coat with sauce and serve.

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