Saturday 29 November 2014

Winter Warmers 1: Chicken Paprikás with Garlic and Bacon Nokedli

This is the first in a series of three meals which are perfect for the cold winter months. The first two feed into the third (a rather fetching Seafood Risotto) by providing the ultimate stock, so you can try making all three in one week to get the most out of them. The next step is the Moules Frites.

Before my recent trip to Hungary, the only reference point I had for paprikás was from When Harry Met Sally. So I didn’t exactly class myself as an expert on the matter. But it did teach me two important lessons. First, make sure it doesn’t have too much pepper on it. Second, don’t leave Budapest without trying it.

When I sat myself down in an empty basement restaurant hidden up some side street at too-damn-early-to-be-ordering-dinner o’clock, I was presented with a rich, creamy chicken stew served side-by-side with tiny buttered dumplings. This traditional accompaniment, nokedli (also called spätzle), is as much a part of the dish as the paprika, so I’m including them in this recipe. That’s as far as tradition goes around here though, because I’ve messed around with the dish and added some ideas of my own.

If the nokedli sound like more effort than you're willing to put in, rice is a great substitute. One thing’s for sure though, you won’t go Hungary after this meal! Eh? Eh?

Your jokes are bad and you should feel bad!

1)  Joint a chicken and start making stock from the carcass.

2)  Fry chicken pieces in a mix of butter and plenty of good paprika, until browned.

3)  Add chopped onion, sliced mushrooms and some black pepper. Continue frying until softened.

4)  Pour in enough chicken stock to half-cover everything. Simmer until meat is tender.

5)  For the Nokedli, mix flour, eggs and a little milk together to form a thick batter.

6)  Push drops of the batter through a grater into boiling water and cook for 2 minutes, then drain.

7)  Fry bacon bits and garlic in butter, add the nokedli and crisp up in the pan.

8)  Stir sour cream into the now tender chicken and serve, along with the fried dumplings.

And there you have it, an eight step program to becoming a fatter, more cultured person! Now just make sure to keep the leftover stock for a great soup, a noodle broth, or for a future risotto recipe.

Uh… is it just me or was that more… concise than usual?

It’s not just you. I’m playing around with some changes to the formula. Well, more like undoing some changes. My original plan had always been a stripped down recipe up front, followed by a more detailed guide. The “short” version had kinda gotten out of control, so I’m hoping to fix that. But feel free to let me know your thoughts with a comment.

Honestly, I’m just here for the food photos. I… I have a problem.

Well the first step is admitting it. Actually, the first step is butchering your chicken. Because we’re going to use every bit of it. Ready to have some fun?

Ingredients (serves 4)

For the Paprikás
  • 1 whole medium free range chicken
  • 2 large onions
  • 100g button mushrooms (or any type you like)
  • ~30g butter
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tbsp hot paprika
  • 200ml sour cream

For the Nokedli
  • 150g plain flour
  • 2 free range eggs
  • 50ml milk
  • 100g streaky bacon
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ~20g butter

For the Stock
  • a large carrot or two
  • an onion or two
  • a couple sticks of celery
  • parsley stalks if you have ‘em handy
  • salt and pepper
  • whatever else you’ve got lying around

The key ingredient in paprikás is the paprika (surprise, surprise), so make sure you’ve got good stuff. Paprika can go off, if it’s old the flavour is dead. Hungarian paprika is ideal. The second most important ingredient is the chicken, especially as we’ll be making stock from the carcass. The only difference between homemade stock and a stock cube is that it’s better in every single way. Make sure to get a free range chicken, there is a hugely noticeable difference in flavour. Also, battery farming is just… ugh. Eukh.

    Grab a big knife, a chopping board, and your chicken. You’re going to joint it. Which is awesome and makes you feel like such a boss. Start by pulling one of the legs, slitting the skin that attaches it to the body, then giving a good yank and a twist to stretch it out. Find the joint where the thigh connects to the body and cut there. You’re cutting between bones, so it should be easy to slice through. Do the same with the other leg, and follow the same process for the wings too.

    Separate the drumstick from the thigh by finding the knuckle-like bone joint in the middle and cutting there. Again, you’re avoiding chopping through bones to make it easier on yourself. If you hit bone, BZZZZZ!, try again. Chop the tips off the wings, as there’s no meat on them.

    Lastly, cut the chicken from the neck, down its length, just slightly off-centre to cut off the breast. Keep as close to the breastbone as you can in order to not leave any meat behind. Do the other breast, then trim any extra meat off the carcass, particularly from the underneath (which is actually the top, if you think about it), where you’ll find the oysters. As in the pocket of dark chicken meat. If you find actual oysters, have a word with your butcher.

If all that just went right over your head, this vid by the Ramster perfectly shows what needs to be done.

    Now take that chicken carcass and chop it into quarters so we can make the stock. Toss it into a large pot with about 2 litres of cold water (throw in the wing tips too). Now add the carrot, onion and celery, roughly chopped. If you have any parsley, chuck in the chopped up stalks too. You can really use whatever veg you have lying around to make stock, so you can add leek, mushrooms, parsnip, bell peppers, asparagus, green beans, whatever. Season with some salt and cracked pepper, then bring the pot to a boil. Lower to a gentle simmer for about an hour.

    While that’s doing its thing, get going on the paprikás. Melt the butter in a very large pot, add the hot and sweet paprika and cook for half a minute. Now add the chicken and fry, moving around until it’s browned all over. Well, brownish red, on account of all the paprika.

    Slice the onions and mushrooms, add them to the pot and continue to fry. Season with a little pepper. Keep the heat medium-high so that the vegetables don’t just go limp in the crowded pot. Don’t worry about brown bits sticking to the bottom. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

    Once that's done, you’re going to want to get out a sieve and strain about half a litre of the simmering stock into your paprikás. All you need is enough to half cover the chicken. Scrape the bottom of the pot to deglaze it, then lower the heat. If the sauce is looking watery, mix a little cool stock with a tablespoon or two of flour to make what is affectionately termed a “sludge”, then add that to the sauce. Keep cooking for another half an hour, stirring once in a while.

    In the meantime, make the nokedli. Beat the eggs and add them to the flour. Pour in enough milk to make a thick batter, or a thin dough. If it’s too tough to work with, add just enough extra milk to be able to stir, but no more. An old Hungarian trick is to hurl a spoonful at the wall, and if it sticks, it’s perfect. Or I just made that up and it's a stupid idea.

    Get yet another big pot, half fill it with water and bring it to the boil. Now for the messy part. You’ll need a cheese grater with fairly large holes. A colander with large holes will also do. Basically you just want anything with large holes. Hold it over the boiling water and scoop the batter/dough into/onto it. Now use a spoon or a spatula to force it through the holes, using a back and forth motion. It is vitally important that the last paragraph not be read out of context.

    Drops of the dough will plop into the boiling water and immediately solidify. After two minutes, they will be cooked, so you either need to work very fast or in batches. Drain them, toss them in a little butter so they don’t stick and leave them aside for a moment.

    Chop up the bacon and the garlic and throw them into a hot frying pan with some butter. Add the nokedli, mix it all up with those awesome flavours and keep frying for a few more minutes until some of them start to crisp a little.

    At this point, the paprikás is cooked and the chicken should be deliciously tender. Take it off the heat and mix in most of the sour cream. Spoon the chicken pieces, along with plenty of that beautiful sauce, into one side of a bowl. Fill in the other side with the nokedli, pour a dollop of sour cream onto the chicken and sprinkle with a little paprika. Sexy.

    But we haven’t forgotten the rest of the stock, now have we? Turn off the heat. After you’ve eaten you can strain out all the solids. What you’ll be left with can only be described as pure liquid gold. Or piss. I guess you couldn’t be blamed for confusing it with piss. But it’s delicious piss, so let it cool and then put it in the fridge (or freezer). We’ll be using that in a risotto recipe soon.

(If you use too small a pot to cook the paprikás, a lot of moisture will stay in the sauce and it may be too thin for your liking. Don’t be afraid to add flour or cornflour to the sauce while it’s cooking to make it thicker.

Also, Paprikás is one of the few red sauces that doesn’t have any tomato in it! How cool is that? Well, I thought it was cool…)

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