Chicken Paprikash

Paprika always makes me think of the introduction to The Warmest Room in the House: How the Kitchen Became the Heart of the Twentieth-Century American Home by Steven Gdula. The author recounts a time in elementary school when he was asked to name a spice. He pronounces paprika the Hungarian way like his parents do at home: "PUHP-rree-kuh." But his teacher doesn't immediately understand what he is saying and eventually guesses he means paprika (pap-REEK-a). He goes home confused and starts to wonder if it's not just his family's pronunciation but also the way they use the spice that differs from other families. And then he writes about how his parents use paprika in everything -- as an Italian family might use garlic and oregano -- and how his mother makes Chicken Paprikash, and ever since then I've wanted to make it (which has been a long time, considering I read this book a year ago while doing research for my master's thesis).

Chicken Paprikash is a dish that gains most of its flavor from paprika, which according to Cookthink, "is an aromatic spice powder made from ground dried sweet bell pepper pods." I bought a 1-pound bag of the Hungarian version at the Atlantic Spice Company in Truro, Mass., last summer, and I've been keeping it in my freezer and stealing scoopfuls from time to time as recipes have required it.

While I've used the paprika in a few other dishes (such as goulash), this is the first time I've finally gotten around to trying it out in Chicken Paprikash.

This recipe comes from the March issue of Food & Wine, in the healthy recipes section. In spite of being healthy, this dish is incredibly flavorful and delicious. And if you're not a fan of sour cream, which I'm not, you can skip that too and make it even better for you. (I'll only eat sour cream when it's cooked, baked, or mixed into things. I most enjoy it stirred up with bananas and sugar and poured over toast.)

Chicken Paprikash (adapted from Food & Wine)

My version serves 2 with leftovers.

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
2 tablespoons flour
26 ounces Swanson chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips

Prepared rice or egg noodles -- or whatever you want to serve it with


In a cast iron Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat slightly and add onions, peppers, and garlic. Saute for about 8 minutes, or until they begin to brown.

Stir in paprika, caraway seeds, and flour, and mix until vegetables are well coated.

Then pour in the stock, toss in the bay leaf and thyme sprigs, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Continue simmering for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Once the peppers have softened and the sauce has thickened, turn heat on high and add the chicken.

Cook just until the chicken is white throughout. Food & Wine recommends about 6 minutes, but this will differ slightly depending on the size you've cut your chicken strips.

Remove the bay leaf and thyme sprigs, and serve.

I served this with rice, but egg noodles would also have been a good choice. However you choose to serve it, be sure to sprinkle a bit more paprika on top, for flavor and appearance.

This made a filling, but not heavy, meal. It's great for a weeknight as long as you plan for the hour of simmering. With the chicken cut and ready to go and the sauce simmering, I was able to sprawl out on the couch for a while, getting up only to stir occasionally. It's a nice hands-off recipe, which is great because we all need a little downtime after work, but I'm not good at relaxing at the expense of a good meal. The tasty results of this meal absolved any guilt I felt from putting my feet up for a bit!