Monday, March 21, 2011

Bowl of Love: The Family Paprikash

Even with the arrival of spring, I feel like it’s not too late for a hearty, warm-your-soul type of stew. Especially if you’re like us vampires in Seattle and you won’t see actual sun until the 4th of July. And really, who needs cold weather to eat my Oma’s amazingly delicious and comforting Chicken Paprikash? I don’t recall the time of year ever having any bearing on when I ate this dish growing up.

Had a bad day at school or work? Paprikash will cheer you up. Won your softball game, landed that big account, or beat the most difficult level of Angry Birds? You deserve a big bowl of paprikash! Big house full of people? Make a big pot of paprikash! Potluck? Take paprikash! Hungry? Hey…why not paprikash!? See! Anytime is paprikash time… and it’s so fun to say! Paprikash, paprikash, paprikash! And, let’s be real here… people love to eat paprikash even more than they love to say it. Even if you didn’t grow up eating up the stuff, you’ll like it. It might be a bit unfamiliar at first—the chicken and plump, chewy dumplings, floating in deep red, creamy gravy spotted with little shiny pockets of oil. Tangy and sweet, with a slight peppery bitterness when the paprika hits the back of your throat…trust me, it’s good. Really, really good. And Mel has the recipe down to a tee.

My mom’s mom, Grandma Carol, is from Oklahoma, so Mel grew up on biscuits and gravy, pots of lima beans with smoky hamhocks, and pit-bbq’d pork shoulder served with whisky or cold iced tea. When she married into my dad’s Eastern European, strudel-and-goulash eating family; with their homemade wine and slivovitz (plum brandy); it must have been a delicious union. John learned to love chip beef on toast (also fondly known as Shit on a Shingle) and chicken fried steak, and Mel learned to make paprikash. She watched my Oma make this dish time and time again to get it right. And, although she made some changes along the way, get it right she did.

My parents’ 30th anniversary is coming up this summer, so obviously Mel's been doing something right…I think it’s the paprikash. Evan has even enjoyed a bowl or two himself…just sayin, it makes a man fall in love.

Oma’s Chicken Paprikash, Mel Style

2 tablespoons Vegetable oil
1 large onion- chopped or sliced
3-4 heaping tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika
2 large chicken breasts, quartered (Oma used bone-in thighs)
Salt, pepper
2 cups water
½ cup sour cream, whisked together with a splash of water and spoonful of flour

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil, and add onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until almost translucent. Add paprika—it will seem like a lot, but trust me, the more the better—and stir to combine. Heat through for several more minutes—adding at the beginning of the cooking process intensifies the smoky-sweet, robust flavor—and cook until the onions are cooked through, stirring almost continuously. Add chicken and stir to coat with paprika, let brown slightly, and add 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer for an hour. Add more water if needed.

Meanwhile, make the dumplings. Combine 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, ¾ cup water, and 3 cups flour the bowl of your stand mixer. Mix with bread hook until combined—dough will be thick and sticky. In a pot of boiling, salted water, add 5-6 tablespoon sized dollops at a time, and cook for 1-2 minutes, until cooked through. Dumplings should be slippery on the outside, and bready on the inside. Set aside a bowl-full for later, in the refrigerator, and add the rest to the simmered paprikash.

Before serving, stir in sour cream mixture, salt, and pepper to taste. Give the chicken a rough shred with your fork, and serve in a bowl, as you would a stew.

The next morning, slice the remaining dumplings, heat with a healthy-sized pat of butter, and douse with cinnamon and sugar.
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