Quality paprika is the key to this authentic goulash dish

CHICAGO TRIBUNEFebruary 12, 2014 

Chicken goulash with potatoes is served with egg noodles.

BILL HOGAN — MCT

  • ON BUYING PAPRIKA

    I use the excellent Hungarian paprika bought online from TheSpiceHouse.com. It sells a high-quality sweet paprika from the Kalocsa region of Hungary as well as the spicy half-sharp paprika. The red can of Hungarian sweet paprika from Pride of Szeged sold at many grocery stores also works. One tip: Buy paprika only in quantities that you’ll use fairly quickly — in months, not years — as it stales and pales quickly. I buy fresh paprika for every batch of goulash for optimal flavor.

    Please note: As much as I love Spanish paprika, it does not work in this dish — different chilies make it taste different than Hungarian sweet paprika. Certainly do not use smoked paprika (aka pimenton) if you want anything close to the Old World version.

Chalk it up to goulash. A bowl full of my grandmother’s simple goodness ignited a passion for spice that never wanes. She peppered chicken or beef with the freshest Hungarian paprika possible. The rusty red powder smelled sweet and tasted lush, nearly intense. A far cry from those cans of bland, pale red dust often used to garnish potato salad.

My mom’s mother served chicken goulash and potatoes for special family meals. My dad’s mother made it with cubes of beef. Both fussed over the quality of the paprika. Grandpa Kunzer always volunteered to go pick up the paprika. There may have been ulterior motives: Tucked into the large sack of paprika? Fresh sausage and imported beer.

The soup-stew known as goulash, or gulyas, is a pillar of Hungarian cooking, George Lang says in his 1971 cookbook “Cuisine of Hungary.” He also shares a surprising fact: A 1969 Gallup poll found goulash to be one of the five most popular meat dishes on the American cooking scene. I suspect most made it with the insipid, stale paprika everyone kept on the shelves for years. Too bad.

My grandparents favored intensely red, sweet paprika imported from Hungary and sold in bulk at their local meat markets. Fresh paprika has a full rich red pepper flavor with almost no heat. Occasionally they’d used half-sharp Hungarian paprika, which proves spicier than the sweet version, adding a nice kick to the pot, which I enjoy immensely.

My grandmother’s goulash featured few ingredients: cut-up chicken, paprika, a little lard, onion and garlic. During gardening season, she added sweet banana peppers. She gave the recipe to my cousin Kathy for a project to commemorate grandma’s 90th birthday. All of her grandchildren now have the recipe in a keepsake laminated form. That recipe calls for only 11/2 tablespoons of paprika; today, I double the amount for a richer broth.

Some recipes call for adding wine or beer to their goulash. Gram was traditional and used only water. I make a light homemade chicken broth from simmering the neck, giblets and wing tips in water. This adds more body and flavor. If the final pan juices are too thin, you can remove the chicken and then boil the liquid to reduce it slightly.

Grandma served her goulash in wide soup bowls with fall-apart tender potatoes. Often, bowls of egg noodles or dumplings were proffered.

I also enjoy spaetzle to soak up the delicious paprika-flavored broth.

For beef goulash, I combine beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes, with smoky bacon and half-sharp paprika. I often serve it with a dollop of sour cream — which Lang and my Dad say makes it a paprikash, definitely not goulash.

Serve goulash on cool nights with a leafy green salad and plenty of crusty bread. You’ll never see paprika in the same light again. You’ll seek flavor in every dish. Really.

CHICKEN GOULASH

Prep: 25 minutes; chill: 1 hour; cook: 1 1/2 hours; makes 6 servings

4 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken, such as thighs, drumsticks and breasts

1 teaspoon salt

2 to 4 tablespoons home-rendered pork lard, bacon drippings or expeller-pressed canola oil

2 medium (12 ounces total) yellow onions, halved, sliced

2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced

3 to 4 tablespoons sweet Hungarian paprika

2 cups chicken broth or water

6 medium yellow potatoes (2 pounds total), peeled, cut into eighths

Chopped fresh parsley

Cooked egg noodles or spaetzle

Rinse chicken; pat dry. (Do not remove skin; it adds flavor.) Cut breasts crosswise through the bone if large. Sprinkle chicken pieces with salt. Place in a covered baking dish or bowl. Refrigerate 1 hour or up to 1 day.

Heat 2 tablespoons lard in bottom of a heavy 6-quart saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat until hot.

Add onions; cook until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon.

Add more lard to pan if needed. Pat chicken dry; add to pan in a single, uncrowded layer. (Do this in batches if necessary.) Cook until chicken is nicely browned on all sides, about 10 minutes.

Return all chicken to the pan; sprinkle the paprika over all. Add onions and broth. Stir well. Cover pan tightly; simmer over very low heat, 30 minutes.

Add potatoes; cook until chicken juices run clear and potatoes are tender, 15 to 30 minutes. (If pan juices are too thin, transfer chicken and potatoes to a warm serving bowl; boil pan juices to reduce them slightly.) Taste and adjust seasonings with salt.

Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with noodles.

Nutrition per serving: 541 calories, 25 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 131 mg cholesterol, 35 g carbohydrates, 43 g protein, 805 mg sodium, 4 g fiber

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