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11/02/2015

~ Mrs. Varga's Evolving Hungarian Paprikas Recipe ~

IMG_7022Although limited, my encounters with Hungarian cuisine have all been good ones, and, to the best of my knowledge, authentic too.  While my family is not Hungarian, we are Eastern European (of the Slovakian type), which means the food of other Eastern European countries, generally speaking, appeals to our appetites.  Thanks to a recipe my mom got from a Hungarian co-worker, she made really good Hungarian "goulyas".  As for paprikas, that's a recipe I got from my current neighbor Gabriella's mother (both of whom immigrated from Hungary to the USA in the 1950's).  A copy of Gizella Varga's paprikas was given to me, along with a copy of her entire recipe collection, by Gabriella after her mother's death.  What a fine gift and how lucky I am.   

Four Hungarian soup & stews (goulyas, porkolt, paprikas and tokany) (GOO-lahsh, PUR-kolt, PAH-pree-kash, to-kany):  "Goulash" (as most Americans refer to it), is a hearty, paprika-laced, small-cubed beef, pork or sometimes game soup -- it's not a thick stew (which is a common American misconception).  The Hungarian word for "thick stew" is "porkolt" which is made with larger cubes of beef, pork or game and less broth or water. Tokany, a very thick version of porkolt, contains just enough liquid to keep it moist, and, this stew is made without paprika.

IMG_7046How does Paprikas fit in this mix & what makes it different?

IMG_6973Paprikas, while obviously laced with sweet Hungarian paprika, is typically made with chicken or veal and is very similar in thickness to porkolt, which classifies it as a stew.

It differs from goulyas, porkolt and tokany in that it is finished with cream or sour cream that is sometimes mixed with flour. Goulyas, porkolt & tokany contain no cream, sour cream or flour.  

IMG_7011Also, goulyas, porkolt and tokany contain garlic -- paprikas does not.  

Paprikas, like porkolt and tokany, is served with or atop Hungarian dumplings, while diced potatoes and/or dumplings usually get added to goulyas (being a gal of Russian decent, my mom always added carrots to goulash too and that was fine by me).  Here in the USA, egg noodles are often substituted.

A few other noteworthy, but not-written-in-stone guidelines:  All four of the dishes are made with lard or bacon fat, onions, tomatoes and sometimes tomato paste.  All four contain broth or water -- wine is rarely used. While all four of the dishes are seasoned with salt, pepper and (except for tokany) paprika, caraway seeds are sometimes added to goulyas and marjoram is added to tokany. Green pepper is an option in all, and, while mushrooms can be added to paprikas, porkolt and tokany, they're not typically added to goulyas (which I find odd as I think they'd taste really good in it).  Chopped parsley is commonly sprinkled on top of all four finished dishes.

Mrs. Varga's Evolving Hungarian Paprikas Recipe:

IMG_6919Interestingly, Mrs. Varga made a few changes to her recipe after moving to the United States. Her chicken paprikas originally used a whole chicken cut into 8 pieces, or, all bone-in breasts and/or leg/thigh portions.  This transitioned into boneless breasts or thighs cut into chunks.  I hope you are following along here folks, because it is obvious to me these changes took place as these newer cuts of chicken hit our American marketplace in the 1960's.  Her veal paprikas originally used chucks of "stew meat", then, when "the other white meat" became popular in the 1970's, she, like everyone else who was sick of boneless, skinless chicken breasts fell in love with boneless pork cutlets, as a much less pricey substitution for veal, which, she smartly cut into strips to make a super-quick version of paprikas!

IMG_69162  pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts or 1/2"-thick pork cutlets, trimmed of all visible fat, lightly-pounded with the flat-sided meat mallet and cut into 1/4"-1/2" strips

4  tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika, the best available (total throughout recipe)

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

4  tablespoons olive oil 

12-ounces peeled, halved and thinly sliced yellow or sweet onion (about 4 cups)

2  14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2 cup sour cream mixed with 1 teaspoon Wondra flour

chicken stock, only if paprikas accidentally becomes too thick, or, for reheating leftovers

1/2-3/4  cup chopped parsley, for garnish

12-ounces wide egg noodles, cooked, drained and tossed with 6 tablespoons butter*

IMG_6999*Note:  For a quick weeknight meal, I serve paprikas with buttered noodles.  That choice is yours.  That said, if you plan to do this, after you prep all of your ingredients for the paprikas, cook and drain your noodles as directed, returning them to the still warm stockpot. Add the butter and toss until butter melts.  Cover and set aside while preparing the paprikas.

IMG_6911 IMG_6921Step 1. Using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound the meat, just enough to break down the fibers. Do not smash them.  Slice into strips, placing them in a bowl as you work.  Add 2 tablespoons of paprika and season liberally with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  I use 40 grinds of salt and 60 grinds of pepper.  Toss to combine.

IMG_6941 IMG_6928~ Step 2.  In a 12" skillet heat EVOO over medium-high.  Add the meat.  Saute, stirring constantly with a large slotted spoon, until meat is cooked through and just starting to turn brown, about 4-5 minutes.  Turn the heat to low and using the slotted spoon, transfer meat from skillet to a plate.

IMG_6951 IMG_6942~ Step 3. Return heat to medium-high.  Add the onions to the drippings in the skillet along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of paprika.  Season with salt and pepper.  I use 20 grinds of salt and 40 grinds of pepper.  Saute until onions are just beginning to soften, about 3 more minutes.

IMG_6957 IMG_6953~ Step 4. Return the meat to the skillet of onions, along with the tomatoes and all of their juice.  Once the mixture returns to a simmer, adjust the heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook until sauce is nicely, not overly thickened, 15-18 minutes.

IMG_7006 IMG_7009                                                 ~ Step 5. In a small bowl, stir sour cream and flour together.  Reduce heat to low and stir the mixture into the paprikas. Allow to simmer for 1 minute or enough to thicken to a silky, sauce-like consistency.  If it gets too thick, add a bit of chicken stock to bring it back to desired consistency.

Paprikas = Red, White & Green (the colors of the Hungary's flag):

IMG_7041Mrs. Varga's Evolving Hungarian Paprikas Recipe:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; 1-cup measuring container; large slotted spoon; 8-quart stockpot and colander (for cooking noodles)

IMG_7297Cook's Note:  All Eastern Europeans are known for their dumplings and  noodles.  To take paprikas to a upper level, try my ~ Hungarian Galushka (Small Soft Eggy Dumplings) ~ which you can find in Categories 4, 12 or 19.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

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