Chicken Paprikash

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I learned about chicken paprikash when we lived in Cincinnati.  One of my personal chef clients wanted to have a dinner at their home with 5 of their friends.  They asked me to create a dinner that reflected their Hungarian roots.  Until then I had eaten goulash and paprikash once or twice and I wasn’t quite sure of the taste of the dish until I started doing research.  I learned about Nokedli, the homemade noodle, Hungarians eat with goulash or paprikash.  I also served stuffed cabbage for first course; the leaves for the cabbage were small enough to make baby rolls and were filled with ground beef and topped with tomato sauce.  The stuffed cabbage was one of my most favorite creations for that dinner because the rolls had a unique taste from the fresh herbs and paprika.  Speaking of paprika and this recipe, Hungarians love this spice because it’s the predominant flavor in many of their dishes.  They use both smoked and sweet Paprika.  Sometimes the smoked is spicy, which I like because it imparts a smokier undertone while also spicing up (in heat) a dish.

Chicken paprikash also incorporates fresh peppers and black pepper for additional flavor.

I developed this recipe to please many palettes. Most often, when you read a recipe for chicken paprikash, the paprika and sliced peppers are added to the sauce before slow cooking with the chicken.  I am not a fan of that version because when using chicken thighs, the meat has to cook in the sauce for 20- 25 minutes. This forces the sliced bell peppers to cook in the sauce for far too long yielding a limp, overdone peppers. For those guests that prefer overcooked peppers, by all means, add them with the chicken.  I have learned in testing this recipe that the peppers hold a much better texture and flavor when they are cooked separately.

In the original version, fresh or canned tomatoes are added to the onions.  I bypass this because a large amount of tomatoes overpowers the paprika flavor.  Tomato paste is a concentrated version of tomatoes and better suited to complement the paprika.  The egg noodles, served on the side, are topped with the homemade tomato sauce and therefore offer a much better suited flavor pairing.

Egg noodles are great with this dish but if you’re feeling ambitious I would recommend making Nokedli from scratch.  The recipe is simple using all purpose flour, eggs, salt and water.

Chicken Paprikash
Serves 2

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
4 chicken thighs, boneless
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 teaspoon smoked Paprika, spicy kind (you can use non spicy as well)
2 teaspoons Tomato paste
1 cup low sodium Chicken broth*
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 medium red or yellow bell pepper, sliced
¼ cup yogurt, at room temperature
Egg noodles topped with tomato sauce *(recipe at the bottom)

*low sodium broth is best but if you have regularly broth, adjust your salt in the recipe accordingly

Season chicken thighs on both sides with salt and black pepper.  In a large, 10- 12”, skillet add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil on medium heat.  Add the seasoned chicken to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes on the first side.  This is where I get antsy like most of you and try to move the chicken or force it to turn. And this is when our patience is required.  When the chicken is ready to turn, it’ll come off the pan easily but if it isn’t ready, it’ll stick to the pan.  If the chicken is sticking to the pan, don’t try to turn it.

Turn the chicken and cook on the other side for 3 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the pan onto a plate.

In the same skillet with oil and chicken fat, add diced onions and cook for 2 minutes.  Stir occasionally to prevent onions from burning.  Stir in minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds.  Add a pinch of salt to the onions and garlic.

Then add paprika, tomato paste and all purpose flour.  Cook everything for 45 seconds because you don’t want to burn the garlic and paprika.  Whisk in the chicken broth and whisk vigorously to avoid lumps from forming.  The flour cooked in the oil & fat will want to clump up but whisking the broth constantly will prevent that.  Season with salt and pepper.  Turn heat down to low and add chicken thighs and their juices back to the pan.

Cook the chicken in the sauce on low for 20 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, add the other 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil to a nonstick skillet on medium heat.  Add the sliced peppers to the pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If the peppers are browning too quickly, turn down the heat slightly.  Once cooked, keep the peppers in the pan until ready to serve.

After 20 minutes, temper yogurt with the hot sauce to prevent curdling.  Tempering means to bring the yogurt temperature up to hot by slowly whisking in the sauce.  Curdling means yogurt breaks down when it is added to a hot sauce with hot pan.  In a bowl combine the yogurt and 1 tablespoon of the sauce from the hot pan and whisk.  After that’s mixed, add another tablespoon of sauce to the yogurt.  Do this 3- 4 times to raise the yogurt’s temperature.  After doing this few times, stir the yogurt mixture into the hot pan with chicken and whisk to combine everything.  You’ll see the color of the sauce change to a paler red.

Taste the sauce with chicken for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper, if necessary.

Quick tomato sauce recipe: Sauté 1 small onion in olive oil for 2 minutes in an 8 inch skillet on medium heat.  Add 1 clove garlic to the onions and cook for 30 seconds.  Add 16 ounce canned tomatoes to the pan with 1 teaspoon of oregano, salt and pepper.  Cook the sauce for 25 minutes on low heat, uncovered.  This is my favorite tomato sauce recipe because it’s quick and in less than 30 minutes has the flavor of slow cooked tomato sauce, nonna style.

Tandoori Chicken in Rich Sauce


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We went to an extended family’s home last weekend for a Diwali (Hindu festival) party.  It was a group of 15- 20 adults and little ones.  We even had fireworks.  Because fireworks are lit in India for any occasion but specially to celebrate Diwali.  And since living in Atlanta is akin to living in India, with large Indian population and many Indian grocers and clothing boutiques, it’s only fitting the families that live here eventually started celebrating Diwali with the fireworks.  The popularity of the festival in America was affirmed when we heard neighbors on other streets light their fireworks.  The saying is, you can take an Indian out of India but you cannot take India out of an Indian.  Last week when I went to the part of the town with all the major Indian grocers and shopping centers, I felt like I was in India.  As soon as I stepped out of my car, I heard blaring Bollywood music and the stores were crowded to the brim of customers wanting to get a piece of the sale.  Diwali mythically represents the battle of good winning over evil.  It is celebrated with lights, hence the name festival of lights.  People buy new clothes, valuables and cars on this day because it’s auspicious and the happiest day of the year.  It is also the Hindus Christmas because friends and family buy presents for their loved ones.

Last weekend at the party, there was lots of food to munch on.  There were appetizers as well as main course.  The appetizers featured tandoori chicken, the famous red (colored) chicken ubiquitous with Indian restaurants.  If made correctly, it is chargrilled and tastes spectacular.  The best part of the grilled chicken is the burnt edges that add the flavor to the meat.  Traditionally tandoori chicken gets its name from the oven it’s cooked in, Tandoor, a clay oven that’s heated with wood or charcoal.  On the street side stands in India, vendors have one or two large clay ovens that are used to grill the chicken and make the naan, an Indian bread that’s made with all purpose flour.  I have no idea how the Indian restaurants in America make theirs but it is reminiscent of the traditional tandoori chicken in India.

At the end of the party the host offered all the guests leftovers from the dinner.  I offered to take the tandoori chicken.  Bringing it home, I knew exactly what I was planning to do with it.  Make a chicken curry with my own spin on the ingredients and recipe.  Many people that order butter chicken or chicken makhani in restaurants will recognize the look of this dish.  The key difference in my recipe and the butter chicken is that chicken must be grilled or baked before being added to the sauce.  Ideally a tandoori chicken from a restaurant is best (or having family host a party and bringing home leftovers) but in a more realistic scenario, buying a rotisserie chicken works just fine in this.   I bet this would work with roasted turkey as well, for those of us that are already looking for leftover turkey recipes.

This take 45 minutes so it’s ideal weekend dinner or entertaining guests.  This recipe can be doubled.  With store bought naan (or pita) and some plain rice, this is the perfect meal for dinner or entertaining.  It’s especially good for a cool Fall dinner with lower temperatures and we are all trying to find ways to stay warm.  The green chilies in the sauce make it spicy and that’s how it is supposed to be!  Any of you that shy away from heat, this is the time to add it because heat is lessened with cream and flavors of sautéed onions and tomatoes.  The key is to get the tandoori chicken or buy a rotisserie chicken from any grocery store.  If using rotisserie (or leftover roasted turkey), make sure you add the extra spices (as I have noted) to enhance the flavors.

The benefit of having a recipe like this that takes time to cook is it allows you to prep the ingredients as you go.  No need for having everything chopped and ready initially.  But be sure to read the recipe in its entirety so you know what ingredients to have on-hand.

Tandoori Chicken in Rich Tomato Sauce
serves 2 generously

2 pounds bone-in grilled or roasted chicken pieces
1 bay leaf
2 dried red chilies
1 medium red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 inch ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 of jalapeno or another spicy green Chili*, finely chopped
1 ground Cumin (if using rotisserie chicken, use 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 ground Coriander (if using rotisserie chicken, use 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala** (if using rotisserie chicken, use 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup tomato puree (crushed tomatoes work as well)
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons dried Fenugreek leaves***
1 teaspoon chopped cilantro, optional

*Be sure to use a spicy jalapeno or serrano pepper, the heat adds a dimension to this dish.  My jalapeno is devilishly hot so I only used half.  Use yours accordingly.

**Garam Masala is found in Indian stores, and the options are endless so pick one that looks good to you.  In the ingredients list look for cloves, red chilies, cumin, coriander, cinnamon & black peppercorns.  I’ve seen some with nutmeg and mace and those are fine ingredients to have in garam masala but not necessary.  Avoid buying garam masala at an American grocery store because it can be old and off.

***Fenugreek in dried form is more flavorful than the fresh and is a better alternative in this recipe.  It can be found in Indian stores.

In a 10- 12” non-stick skillet, heat butter on medium heat.  When the butter has melted, add bay leaf and 2 red dried chilies.  Cook the whole spices for 30 seconds and then add diced onions to the pan.  Turn down the heat to medium low to allow the onions to cook for 3 minutes without burning, stirring occasionally.

Add the garlic, ginger and green chili and cook for 1 minute.  Add the spices and salt and cook for 30 seconds.  Increase the heat to medium, stir in tomato puree and stock.   When the sauce begins to slowly bubble/simmer, reduce the heat to low.  Add the bone-in chicken pieces and cook for 20 minutes, covered.  It is important to cover the pan to allow the flavors to infuse the chicken.

Uncover, stir in heavy cream and fenugreek leaves and cook for 10 minutes.  Taste and add salt if necessary.

Garnish with chopped cilantro, if using.  Serve warm with rice and/or naan.

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