If a man cannot or will not cook, he is not a man. All REAL men – manly men, if you will – know how to cook, and by cook I don’t mean scurry around a studio kitchen yelling “BAM!” and cooking stuff most ordinary chefs don’t cook, like that wretched little Emeril does on his stupid Food Network show. Honestly…what kind of serious chef has his own studio band, complete with an African-American Doc Severinsen? I learned to cook because my mother – God rest her soul – was a superb cook. When I moved out and lived on my own, I had no choice but to teach myself the arcane ways of the kitchen.
The grandma in question is my father’s mother, Theresa Erdos. She was born in 1910 in Budapest – then a vibrant city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire – and was a peripheral member of the Hapsburg royal family who was obliged to flee Europe at the tender age of 9 years in the company of her sisters Ethel and Mary when the empire fell at the close of the Great War. Here in America, her blue blood counted for nothing and she made a new life for herself as one of millions of newly-arrived immigrants.
I have fond memories of my grandmother, whose Hungarian background occasionally surfaced in certain speech inflections that made her sound a lot like Bela Lugosi. She always made pfannkuchen for me and my cousins and told us stories about her childhood in Budapest where she attended lavish banquets at which dashing, decorated military officers danced with debutantes to the glorious strains of Richard Strauss’ Kaiserwalzer.
Every so often she prepared a dish that is, without question, the sine qua non of Hungarian comfort food: Chicken Paprikash (Csirkepaprikas). Grandma only used the legs, wings and thighs of the chicken and for good reason: they impart great flavor to the dish and hold up well under long, slow cooking.
Sometime before she passed away in 1997 she gave me her recipe. I modified it slightly to slow cook the chicken in the oven instead of braising it on the stove top. There is no doubt in my mind that Grandma would scowl at me in disapproval. After all, it was her way or the highway. I loved the woman dearly but she fleshed out an old Hungarian proverb popular among the males: “Hat ember hordoz egy ember, a sírba, hanem csak egy nő küld ott” (It takes six men to carry a man to his grave, but only one woman to put him there.”)
Truth be told, given the quantity of fat, carbs and calories in this dish I can’t help but wonder if the blame has fallen wrongly on women instead of the cuisine.
Theresa Erdos’ Chicken Paprikash
4 each whole chicken wings (tips removed), thighs and drumsticks
¼ cup paprikash seasoning mix (see below)
1 cup all-purpose flour
6 slices bacon or 3 tbsp lard
3 tbsp butter
2 large white onions, finely diced
½ red bell pepper, finely diced
½ green bell pepper, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
5 heaping tbsp authentic Hungarian sweet paprika
¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
¼ tsp black pepper
4 cups chicken broth
8 oz. sour cream
2 tbsp flour
Coat the chicken pieces liberally with the seasooning mixture and then dredge in the flour. In a large ovenproof cooking pot or dutch oven on medium heat, cook the bacon until very crisp and remove (or add the lard to the pan and heat just until the smoking point). Bring flame up to high and then brown the chicken pieces in two batches. Reserve in a bowl or dish on the side.
Add butter to the pot, followed by the diced onions and saute on medium heat until they just begin to brown. Then add the diced peppers and minced garlic, stirring constantly for five minutes. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pot. Raise flame to high and continue cooking until the volume of liquid reduces by half. Add the paprika, black pepper (and cayenne, if desired) and stir to mix well. Continue cooking until all of the liquid evaporates, then add the rest of the chicken broth. Stir briefly until the boil is reached and then add all of the chicken. Put the lid on the pot or dutch oven, place in an oven set to 200 degrees F. and slow cook for 2 hours.
After 2 hours, carefully remove chicken from the pot and reserve in a large shallow serving bowl. Remove ½ cup of the broth from the pot. In a large mixing cup or small bowl, whisk together flour and sour cream, then whisk in the reserved broth a little at a time to temper the sour cream. Whisk the tempered mixture into the broth in the pot and stir over medium heat until thickened to a creamy consistency. Pour the sauce over the chicken in the bowl and serve immediately with wide egg noodles or dumplings (see recipe below).
Add 1 part each salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and 3 parts authentic Hungarian paprika (use Szeged brand) to a small empty jar and shake well to mix. Label the jar and keep it tighly lidded in a cool, dark spice cabinet.
1-¼ cup of all purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
1 tbsp cream of wheat or farina
1 egg, beaten, room temperature
½ cup of warm water
½ tsp melted butter
1 tsp butter in a large serving bowl
¼ tsp each salt and pepper
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
Heat a large pot of at least 4 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil.
In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, and cream of wheat. Make a well in the middle and add the egg, water and butter. Stir until batter is smooth and very thick. Dip a teaspoon into hot water and then scoop up some of the batter onto the spoon. Use your finger to push the batter off the spoon and let it drop into the boiling water. Do this in rapid succession to cook at least a dozen dumplings. Stir the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon so that the dumplings rise to the top and then let them continue cooking for 15 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and reserve in a serving bowl with 1 tsp butter. Toss the dumplings to coat evenly with butter so they don’t stick together, then sprinkle with salt, pepper and parsely. Toss again and serve immediately with chicken paprikash.