As far as dates go, it might very well be the first day of Spring in Australia, but this morning's cracker frost and minus 6.9 degrees C temperature assures me that, despite the season, it is not at all inappropriate to share with you one of my most favourite recipes, the Hungarian classic Paprikás Csirke Nokedlivel, (Chicken Paprika with Soft Noodles).
Paprikás Csirke is a dish that my mother taught me to cook when I was just a child. I've eaten and cooked it, with gusto, all my life. There is an art to making Paprikás and some interesting background to it as well.
In The Cuisine of Hungary, author Hungarian-born American restaurateur, George Lang, wrote that 'when a Hungarian says paprika, [they] mean only the ground spice (and it's also referred to as red paprika (pirospaprika). [Whereas], Green paprika refers to the fresh vegetable; if it is red ripe [however], it is generally called a tomato paprika (paradicsompaprika). In Hungary, there are two basic categories of paprika... those grown for eating fresh and those destined to be dried, ground into powder and used as a condiment.' Of course, we know the said vegetables as peppers or capsicums, and sometimes as bell peppers or chilli peppers. Confused yet?
Food history indicates that paprika was used as a spice in Hungary during the seventeenth century, when the shepherds on the Great Plain used it to flavour their kettle-cooked goulash. According to Lang, Hungarians were 'unquestionably the first to use powdered paprika in pure form, unmixed with anything else... and somewhere along the line the Hungarians hit on the holy trinity of lard, onion and pure ground paprika. This simple combination became the base of virtually unlimited taste combinations'.
Shepherds, fishermen and peasants enjoyed rustic foods based on that holy trinity, goulash and chicken paprika for example, but eventually the nobility discovered these dishes too. In the 1860s, Chicken Paprika was apparently a favourite of Elizabeth or Sisi (consort to Franz Josef I, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary). At the same time, Georges Escoffier brought paprika from Szeged in Hungary and served it in Monte Carlo in 1869 in his Poulet au Paprika.
In my treasured 1955 edition of Az Inyesmester Nagy Szakacskonyve (Muszaki Konyvkiado), the delightfully-worded recipe for Paprikás Csirke loosely translated by my 'kitchen Hungarian' reads: 'Firstly, we need a young but meaty, freshly-slaughtered Magyar chicken, plucked and cut into 8-10 pieces, washed and dried with a cloth. Then we need 12-15 dekagrams of cubed smoked bacon fat, which we melt and when it is boiling hot we throw in and cook until golden a small head of grated red onion. Then we toss onto it a good coffee spoonful of nemes-édes szegedi paprika. Then we place the chicken pieces into the pan and salt them. If the pan juices boil dry, then we add 1-2 spoonfuls of chicken stock. We cover the pan and braise until the meat is tender. ... And then of course, let's not forget to make the simple noodles'.
Here are my recipes for Paprikás Csirke and Nokedli, adapted from my mother, Irene's, recipes, which were handed down from her mother (my grandmother), Elizabeth, and, no doubt, her mother before her too.
CHICKEN PAPRIKA (Paprikás Csirke)
1kg chicken thigh meat, cubed
2 large brown (or Spanish) onions, chopped
2 tablespoons oil
1-2 heaped teaspoons Noble Sweet Hungarian paprika+
salt, to taste
4 bell peppers (capsicums) red and green, seeds and core removed, flesh cut into strips
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters
a little water, if needed
Heat the oil in a heavy based saute pan. Add the onions and cook gently until golden and translucent. Remove the pan from the heat momentarily and sprinkle the paprika over the onions. Stir well, then add the chicken pieces and place the pan back onto the stove. Cook, stirring over a medium to high heat, until the chicken pieces brown (taking care not to burn the paprika). Then add the bell pepper/capsicum slices. It may seem like a lot, but the more capsicum, the richer the sauce will be. Now, season with salt, then lower the heat and pop the lid on. Check to see if the chicken is catching on the pan, if it is, add just a little water. Cook until the bell peppers begin to soften, then add the tomatoes and continue cooking until the chicken is cooked and tender, and the tomatoes and bell peppers have 'cooked down'. Serve over the top of freshly made soft noodles, and add a good dollop of sour cream. Serves 4-6.
+ Some delicatessens sell good Hungarian brands of Noble Sweet paprika, as does Herbie's.
The process in pictures... Chicken Paprika
A long time ago, my mother made nokedli by placing the noodle dough into a wet long handled board. With a knife, she cut walnut sized noodles and pushed them into the pot of boiling water. I was always amazed by her quick wrist action and how deft she was at 'plipping' the little noodles into the pot. In the 1970s, my father, in his wisdom, 'invented' a gadget for my mother and me by drilling holes into the base of aluminium frypans. This worked a treat, although it was a little awkward to hold a heavy pan while you scraped the dough back and forth with a plasterer's tool! Once the iron curtain lifted, my parents travelled to Hungary often and brought back numerous nokedli makers. See my current Rolls Royce version below. You could improvise and use a colander or spatzle press with large holes, but I have also offered some suggestions down below, if you prefer to shop for a sliding noodle maker.
SOFT NOODLES (Nokedli)
3 cups plain (AP) flour
a pinch of salt
2 free range eggs
up to 2 cups water
Combine the flour, salt and eggs in a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden spatula. Gradually add the water, stirring to a smooth paste. You don't want a dry dough, the mixture should be viscous without being sloppy, see the pictures below. Meanwhile, heat some water to a rolling boil in a wide saucepan or stockpot. Then you are ready to cook the noodles using a wet board or plate, noodle maker, spatzle press, or whatever gadget you can get your hands on. The noodles are cooked when they rise to the surface. Drain well. I like to rinse quickly with a cup of two of boiling hot water. Serves 4-6.
The process in pictures... Soft Noodles
The finished dish...
My Rolls Royce noodle maker...
** Noodle or nokedli makers are available from Scullery Made in Melbourne and occasionally Cooking Coordinates in Canberra stock them too (speak with 'Jan'). Lisa Goldberg, a.k.a. of Monday Morning Cooking Club fame, recommended this wonderful Magyar Marketing site, which stocks the item. But if all else fails, take a tip from Lisa... she uses a colander with large holes, 'it's almost less messy' she tells me.
Dear Readers. Have you ever made similar noodles? Or perhaps spatzle? If you have any questions, let me know. I'd love it if you would try this recipe, despite the weather in your part of the world.
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.