Monday, October 2, 2017

Chicken Paprikash

This is such an easy dish to make and is so delicious, I honestly don't know why I don't make it a lot more often. It is rich and full-bodied, but not as high in fat or calories as you might think. If you're really concerned about fat grams, you can always use a low-fat or no-fat sour cream, or even plain yogurt in its place. In a dish this flavorful, I doubt that you'd notice a difference.

It's one of the hubber's favorite chicken dishes and let's face it... it's downright comfort food. To be honest, I love just about anything that you can serve over buttered noodles or rice. I often think that love of "protein plus sauce over starch" could have a lot to do with my age and the era that I grew up in. The 60's and 70's were a transformational period in regard to women's roles in the family and it affected how they handled the day to day care and feeding of their families pretty dramatically. All of these new "career women" suddenly found themselves juggling the kids, the household duties and their newest responsibility... a job. Jobs took working moms out of the home for anywhere from a couple of hours to a full 9 to 5 day - but as fate would have it, something new and innovative sprung up out of these changes. It was the foundation of the concept of "quick and easy weeknight cooking".

New ideas from brands like Betty Crocker and Campbell's Soup company allowed women to be able to toss a handful of pantry staples together and pour them all into a buttered baking dish (or a bit later on a crockpot), which helped to free up a lot of precious time for moms who were either going back to school, into the workforce or just beginning to work outside of the home. As buttered noodles and rice and one of the newest sensations, "instant potatoes" became the base for all kinds of oven-baked casseroles and crock-pot concoctions, women gained more time to pursue a career, attend those PTA & scout troop meetings or the kid's sporting events and still know they were feeding their families a hearty, tasty and usually pretty affordable meal.

You can certainly serve rice or mashed potatoes with this dish, but the usual or traditional Hungarian accompaniment for many meat dishes is generally served with spätzle, a noodle-like dumpling that has been a traditional staple for centuries in countries like Hungary, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, etc. It also happens to be a particular favorite of mine, but I have yet to attempt it in my own kitchen.

One of the best parts about Paprikash is that it has only a few ingredients that are readily available and with the pretty consistent weekly sales that we see these days on chicken in most local grocery chains, it can be quite affordable. The recipe is quick and easy and most important of all, it really is delicious!

Remember to always do your prep work first. It saves so much on time and it helps you coordinate your main dish and your sides, so it's more likely that everything will be ready at the same time.

Chicken Paprikash
(Serves 4)
  • 4 Boneless Chicken Breasts (sliced in half lengthwise)
  • 1 Large Onion, minced
  • 1 Cup Chicken Stock or Broth
  • 1/4 Cup Dry White Wine or Dry Vermouth
  • 1 Cup Sour Cream (or Plain Yogurt)
  • 4 Tbls Butter
  • 1/8 Cup Sweet Hungarian Paprika (see ***Notes below)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper

If you're working with standard sized chicken breasts, start by cutting them in half lengthwise. This will help them to cook more quickly and evenly and stretch the recipe to feed more people and/or have yummy leftovers for lunch the next day. You can always purchase 8 thin sliced chicken breast cutlets to save more time, but I've been doing this for so long, it only takes me a minute. (And as I always say.... it's very important to have well-sharpened knives on hand in your kitchen. A properly sharpened knife is much less dangerous than a dull one.)

Season the chicken breasts on both sides with salt & pepper.

Peel and chop the onion pretty finely. It's OK if you don't end up with perfectly symmetrical cubes of onion like the professional chefs do. Just try to keep the pieces as close in size as you can to ensure even cooking.

I'll do a small dice to start and then I'll reduce the dice even more to get the size that I'm looking for.

This results in a more smoothly textured sauce in the finished dish, so that ensures that nobody is chomping on big chunks of onion. Of course, it also helps speed up the cooking time. ⏰

You can start with 2 tablespoons of butter to saute the chicken and save the other 2 tablespoons as needed to cook your second batch and your onions, but I just throw it all in at once and I usually have plenty of butter left in the pan to take me the whole way through.

Cook the chicken over medium-high heat, turning several times until each breast is a nice golden brown on both sides. Turning the meat often also helps to the butter from burning. You don't have to cook the meat all the way through at this point, as you'll be putting it back in the pan again in a few minutes. You can test for doneness using the chart below. (for the purpose of this recipe, somewhere between a #3 a #4 on the chart is perfect at this point)

I always use the finger test to see whether or not the chicken is cooked all the way through. If you've never tested the doneness of meat this way and want to know exactly what you're looking for, see the chart below. This works with all meats and in my opinion, when it comes to chicken, you want the end result to be between #4 and #5 at the thickest part of the breast. (or thigh, if you are using those instead)

Once it's golden brown, remove chicken to a plate and set it aside. Add your onions to the same pan and saute' them over medium to medium-high heat until they're just translucent. Stir the onions frequently to prevent them from browning too much and scrape up the brown bits (the French call this fond) on the bottom of the pan.

You probably won't need to add any more butter after removing the chicken, but if you find the pan to be a bit dry, just add another teaspoon or two of butter - or even a bit of light olive or vegetable oil.

When the onions are translucent, pour in the wine or vermouth and stir very well, scraping up any remaining brown bits from the bottom of the pan. There's a lot of flavor in that fond!

You don't want the wine/vermouth to reduce too much at this point. One to two minutes at the most should be long enough before moving on to the next step.

Add in the Sweet Hungarian Paprika and stir well to combine.

***Note: It's preferable to use a good quality Sweet Hungarian Paprika for this dish. The "generic" paprika that you find in standard bottles or jars in the seasonings section of your grocery store, is often less flavorful, sometimes a tad bitter and not much good for anything besides decorating deviled eggs and potato salad. There are a couple of brands that will do in a pinch, but we try not to use them unless we haven't been able to find our preferred brand. (which happened to be the case when I prepared this recipe)

This looks like it's the original, but we've only been able to find it on Amazon.UK
The original brand that we've purchased for years had only the word "Szeged" at the top of the tin and underneath it, the words "Sweet (or Hot) Hungarian Paprika". It also said right on the tin that it was imported from Hungary. Authentic Hungarian paprika is made from drying and then grinding high quality sweet or hot Hungarian grown bell peppers into a powder, with nothing else (like fillers or preservatives) added. Our brand mysteriously disappeared from the grocery store shelves a few years ago and for quite a while we've had to resort to buying slightly higher-end American made brands, such as McCormick.

There is a particular brand that has shown up recently on Amazon and in several grocery chains and WalMart that's called Pride of Szeged (below), but there's been some controversy surrounding this brand because it doesn't say anywhere on the tin that its imported from Hungary.  The tin looks very similar to the "authentic" brand, but having used that one for many years, we can tell that this doesn't taste quite the same or have the same fresh sweet bell pepper aroma of the original. They also tend to charge the same slightly higher price as the imported stuff and if I'm not getting the "real deal" then I have no desire to spend the extra cash on it.

Is this an impostor?
Anyway.... Let's get on with this recipe, shall we?

Allow the paprika to cook with the butter, wine and onion mixture for a minute or two, to bring out its full flavor and aroma. This would also be a good time to put the water on to boil for your egg noodles. (or for you to prepare your rice, etc.)

Add the chicken pieces (and any juices that have accumulated on the plate - lots of flavor in those juices, folks - back to the pan and turn it several times to coat it thoroughly with the onions, the wine and the paprika.

Pour in the chicken stock and continue to turn the chicken over a few more times to coat it with the sauce again.

Add your noodles to your boiling water and cook according to the package directions. We like our egg noodles the same way that we like all types of pasta... al dente'.

Let the chicken simmer in the sauce for 2 to 3 more minutes to allow it to finish cooking thoroughly.

Remove the chicken to the plate again and cover it with a bit of foil to keep it nice and warm while you're finishing the sauce.

Making sure that your heat is no higher than medium, add in the sour cream and stir in with a spatula or a whisk to combine it completely. You generally don't want to boil a sauce that has sour cream or yogurt in it. This can cause the sauce to separate.

You want the sauce to be a solid coral/rusty red shade, without any streaks of white left in it.

Once the sauce is fully combined, add the chicken pieces back to the pan (don't forget those juices from the plate!) and turn it a few times to coat it well with the sauce. You can also spoon some of the sauce over the chicken to coat it thoroughly.

You can't really tell from the photo, but there were a few tiny bubbles in the sauce popping up here and there as it was coming back up to temperature up after the addition of the sour cream. This isn't going to hurt the sauce at this point. Just be sure to turn the heat down a bit more if the bubbling starts to increase.

Turn the heat down to the lowest setting on your cooktop and partially cover the pan while you butter your cooked and drained noodles or fluffed rice. If I happen to have some fresh flat leaf parsley on hand, I'll sometimes chop a bit of it up and add it to the noodles, just for a little pop of freshness and color. As you can see, I was too hungry and too impatient to do that on the night that I prepared this. LOL

How you serve the finished Paprikash is totally up to you. You can plate up your noodles and chicken individually or you can arrange everything on a large deep platter if you prefer and serve it "family style" at the table. Just make sure to spoon plenty of the delicious sauce over everything and if there's any left in the pan, be sure to pour it into a small bowl or pitcher to pass at the table.

Serve your masterpiece right away while it's piping hot and of course... enjoy!



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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Classic Chicken Piccata

I remember my first experience with "piccata" and I'm sad to say that it wasn't a very good one. It was a veal piccata dish, made by an old friend who had invited us to dinner back in the late 70's or very early 80's. It wasn't because it was veal. I like veal. To be totally honest, I have a love/hate relationship with it. I enjoy it immensely (when it's prepared properly) and ground veal also happens to be a very integral ingredient in my meatball recipe. The only "down" side to veal, is that I have to take my emotions completely out of the equation whenever I eat it. It's kind of like the whole venison/Bambi thing. I only get it in certain restaurants and I have to trick my mind into not thinking that I'm eating, well.... you know. Let's just let it go at that, right? I think we'd all have a better rest of the day. 😳

Now,  don't get me wrong... I'm not saying that my friend was a bad cook. On the contrary, I think she did a good job with the meals that I'd had before at her table. This time, however, was a bit of a disaster. The oil and butter that she cooked the meat in, never got up to the proper temperature and whenever you cook with fats or oils, that just isn't a good thing - especially when it's been coated with flour or breadcrumbs. The coating just soaks up the oil like a sponge and unfortunately, I don't think she knew it would continue to do so, because she just kept adding more. The veal became quite tough and chewy and the normally lightly browned outer coating was... well, not.

We were all very polite that night and tried to act like we loved the meal, but I found out from other friends who were dining that night, that I wasn't the only one who was clandestinely spitting each bite into my napkin. I've often wondered if she noticed and just let it go, to avoid embarrassment on all sides.

I suppose I should have thanked her really, because I learned something from that experience about what not to do. The result of that dinner (or maybe I should call it a lesson) ended up being two-fold. A) I learned to never add meat to a pan that hasn't come up to temperature and B) when it comes to piccata, I decided that I'd just stick with chicken.

I promise that my recipe will come out just right every time, because I've made it many, many times over the years and perfected it in the process. It's a very lovely Northern Italian staple and it also happens to be one of our favorites.

*The recipe I'm giving you will serve 4 people, but I had only two chicken breasts in the freezer the day that I decided to photograph the meal for the blog and I cut one rather large breast in half to facilitate even cooking, so you'll see only three pieces in the photos.

Classic Chicken Picatta
Serves 4 - (can easily be doubled)
  • 4 Boneless Chicken Breasts, thinly sliced or pounded
  • 3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
  • 2 Tbls Capers, rinsed
  • 4 Tbls Butter, divided
  • 2 Cups Chicken Stock or Broth
  • 1/2 Cup Dry Vermouth
  • 1/4 Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 2 Tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 Tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Tsp Italian Seasoning
  • Zest from 1 Lg Lemon (2 Tbls)
  • Light Olive or Vegetable Oil
  • Fresh Chopped Parsley, for garnish

If you're using whole chicken breasts, you'll need to butterfly them, cut them in half or pound them down to about a quarter of an inch thickness so that they'll cook evenly and quickly. *See my note above.

As I say in all of my recipes, it's important to have as much of your "prep work" done before you start to cook. I don't do it just for the photo op. It really makes the entire cooking process go much more smoothly. So, take a few minutes to zest and squeeze your lemon(s). Have all of your seasonings and flour ready to go in a container that will fit the size of the meat you're dredging in it. If there are wet ingredients like the vermouth and chicken stock in this dish, have them all measured out as well. Also rinse things like capers and drain them, so that you can just toss them in when the time comes. You get the drift.

I will often mix my dry seasonings together and put them into a tiny prep bowl or one of the funky little spoons that I collect. (like the one shown in the photo above)

As you can see in the photo, I make sure that the flour or breadcrumbs being used to coat or to dredge meats or vegetables is always seasoned, even when I've seasoned the food itself. Seasoning is all about layers, my friends!

Capers are one of those ingredients that's kind of an acquired taste and if you know from experience that you just don't like them, you can leave them out. That being said, if they're something that you've never tried, please do give them a chance. They're an integral part of piccata and they get a bad rep because many cooks don't take the time to rinse and drain them before adding them to a dish. They usually come packed in jars filled with a salty and/or vinegary brine and that can add a bit too much pungency to a dish if they're just dumped in straight from the jar.

Season both sides of the chicken liberally with the salt, pepper and Italian seasoning mixture.

Add any remaining seasoning to the flour. If you don't have any left after seasoning the meat, you can just add the seasonings one by one or make up another slightly smaller bowl of them and add them into the dredging dish or plate.

Give the flour and seasoning mixture a good stir to incorporate them well. You don't want any small pockets of overly seasoned flour and large areas that are not seasoned a all.

Using your very clean hands or a pair of tongs, dip each piece of chicken into the flour mixture, turning it over as needed until the chicken is nicely coated. Some people like to use a two step, or wet dry process here. This is when you dip or soak the meat in question in an egg wash or buttermilk, etc. before you add it to the dry ingredients, whether that's flour or breadcrumbs. (or both in some cases) I don't feel this is necessary this time, simply because I don't really care for a thick crust on my chicken piccata.

Try not to have any "bald patches" on the meat, so if you're making a larger batch and you run out of your dredge, just add an appropriate amount of flour and your seasonings to the dish and continue the dredging process. Put the coated chicken pieces onto a plate or sheet of waxed paper until you're done with all of them and your pan is ready to start cooking. You also want to make sure to hang onto any leftover flour mixture for later use in this dish. (**this is specific to this recipe, because it will be used in a way that it will continue to be cooked for a while after it's second use.)

**If you aren't going to be using a dredge mixture in a way that it will be cooked longer during the course of the recipe, do not ever save a mixture that raw meat has touched for later use. It has been "cross contaminated" at this point and would cause illness to anyone who ate food that was prepared with it.

Add about two teaspoons of light olive or vegetable oil to a large skillet that is preheating over a medium high flame.

Once the oil is distributed well in the skillet and is heated to the point where it is sizzling, you can start adding your chicken to it.

Cook the chicken, turning it frequently until it is nicely browned on each side and cooked all the way through. This shouldn't take more than about 3 (maybe 4) minutes per side when the chicken breasts are this thin.

If it looks like the flour is starting to get too dark, too quickly or it starts to smoke, turn the heat down a couple of notches to medium or even medium low for the remainder of the cooking time.

Once the chicken is cooked through, remove it to a clean plate and cover lightly with foil to keep it warm. Maintaining (or returning to) a medium to medium high heat, add in the lemon juice and stir it around with a spatula, scraping up any browned bits and thickened juices (called fond by the French) from the bottom of the skillet.

You'll see that the bottom of the skillet is "clear" of pretty much all of the fond.

Continue cooking and stirring occasionally, until the lemon juice has reduced slightly.

Add in the dry vermouth (or white wine) and reduce that by about 1/3rd.

Add in the 1/2 of the lemon zest...

...and the capers. Stir or gently swirl the pan to incorporate both.

If you aren't seeing small bubbles around the edges of the skillet, you'll need to turn the heat up a tiny bit until you do.

Take about a tablespoon of the reserved seasoned flour mixture and add it to the skillet.

Stir the flour into the liquid in the pan until it is the consistency of heavy cream. Keep stirring it for about a minute to cook out any "raw" flour taste.

At this point, slowly pour in about 2/3 of the chicken stock.

Set the remaining stock aside for a few minutes.

Return the chicken pieces to the skillet.

Make sure to get any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Those juices are pretty much "liquid gold" because they have a lot of flavor in them!

Continue to cook the chicken, turning it over from time to time to coat it in the sauce and heat it back through. (no more than 2 to 3 minutes)

The liquid in the skillet is going to continue to reduce and thicken during this time, so that's why you'll need that reserved 1/3rd of the stock.

Add the rest of the stock and continue cooking and turning the chicken in the sauce that's forming.

Next, add the second 1/2 of the lemon zest and stir well. This will add a nice kick of fresh lemon to the sauce that will have dissipated while it's cooked for a while.

After cooking for a about 2 more minutes and once the chicken is heated back through, remove it from the pan to a warm platter or individual plates and serve right away.

We love to have long cooking jasmati rice with this dish, but you can serve it with your own favorite type of rice, buttered noodles, potatoes - or whatever you like best. If you're avoiding or cutting back on carb intake, serve it over a bed of sauteed spinach or alongside your favorite veggies. No matter what you decide to serve it with, once you've tried it, I think you'll want to make it again and again. It's a bit addictive. 😊



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