Chicken Paprikash (Chicken with Paprika-Sour Cream Sauce)

November 13, 2017

I really don’t remember my Slovak grandmother doing much cooking. By the time I was old enough to pay attention to who was cooking, she was mostly just making the occasional pot of soup.

My Grandmother

My grandparents owned a semi-detached house and Uncle Frankie and Aunt Mary lived next door. Although they had separate front porches, they shared a back porch. Going back and forth was easy.


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Aunt Mary kept my grandparents well-supplied with food. My Aunt Ann pitched in from time to time as well.

My Grandfather

My grandparents were really keen on soup. I guess when you’re raising a family of seven sons through the Great Depression and its aftermath, on a steelworker’s income, preparing filling and budget-friendly food becomes a necessity.

After the early 1960s when my Uncle Gusty moved back to the United States from Japan with his wife and their children, all seven of my grandparents’ sons lived in Johnstown with their wives and children. Most of us would visit on Sunday afternoons arriving sometime after lunch and leaving before dinner.

My Grandfather and Father in the late 1960s. I used to wear the tie my dad is wearing to high school. I still have it! My father insisted that I tie a Full Windsor. Now I know where he got his preference!

Very frequently a large pot of soup would appear for anyone who needed a little something to hold him or her over till dinner. Often it would be potato soup or sour mushroom soup (made with dried mushrooms and spiked with a little vinegar). My father talked longingly about a sour cabbage soup called kissel which nobody was making any longer.

Other than soup, baba (sometimes written bubba), and sweets at the holidays, I don’t remember eating much at my grandparents’ house though I do remember my grandfather and my uncles consuming a fair amount of beer, and, on special holidays, shots of whiskey.

Me with my Grandparents in 1976

Most of the Slovak food that I ate was at home or at one of my uncle and aunt’s houses.

Chicken Paprikash is considered a Hungarian dish but it was common on the Slovak side of my family.  My grandfather was born in 1890 in a small town, Nitrianske Sucany, not too far from Bratislava, in what is now Slovakia.  My grandmother was born a few years later.  In 1909 when my grandfather came to America, he left what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Slovakia did not exist as a country.  Food diffuses with cultural contact (think about the popularity of Spam in both Hawaii and Korea which can be traced to the presence of the US military).  I suspect that’s how Chicken Paprikash became something made by my Slovak grandparents.

My version of Chicken Paprikash is a combination of my mother’s and my Aunt Ann’s. When I went to look up the recipe to make in preparation for this blog I discovered that I had never written it down! Luckily I remembered just how to do it.


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Chicken Paprikash
Using bone-in chicken with skin improves the flavor of the final dish. Flabby skin from braised chicken is not appetizing, however, so remove it near the end of cooking before putting the chicken in the finished sauce. Since paprika is the major flavor in this dish be sure to use fresh, high-quality paprika, preferably Hungarian. Sweet paprika was the norm in my family, not hot, and certainly not smoked which would totally change the flavor. You can use whatever chicken parts you prefer but I think the texture of slowly braised thighs is superior. Serve the chicken with buttered noodles or mashed potatoes, both of which go really well with the sour-cream-enhanced sauce.
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Course Mains, Poultry
Cuisine Slovak
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Mains, Poultry
Cuisine Slovak
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Pat the chicken dry and season liberally with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan.
  3. Sauté the chicken on both sides, starting skin-side-down, until brown on both sides. Do not crowd the chicken. Do this in batches if necessary.
  4. Remove the browned chicken to a platter.
  5. Empty the oil from the pan and wipe clean.
  6. Add two tablespoons of butter. Sauté the diced onion until golden.
  7. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, approximately 1 minute.
  8. Add 3 tablespoons of paprika and sauté for approximately 15 seconds (paprika burns very easily).
  9. Add one cup of broth and mix well.
  10. Add the bay leaf, browned chicken pieces and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Cover and braise on low until very tender, approximately 1 ½ hours being sure to taste for salt occasionally. Add additional broth if needed to keep the pan from drying out.
  11. About 15 minutes before the chicken is done, remove the skin and discard.
  12. When the chicken is fully cooked, remove it to a platter.
  13. Remove the bay leaf.
  14. Pour the cooking liquid, without straining, into a small pot and keep it warm on low heat. You can skim fat from the top of the cooking liquid if you would like.
  15. Wash and dry the pot used to cook the chicken. Melt the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter in that pot.
  16. Add the finely diced onion and sauté until golden.
  17. Add the flour and cook 2-3 minutes, until no longer raw.
  18. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of paprika and sauté 15 seconds.
  19. With the flour-onion-paprika mixture on medium heat, begin to ladle in the reserved cooking liquid a little at a time, stirring well after each addition to avoid lumps.
  20. When all the cooking liquid has been incorporated, add any remaining chicken broth, if all of the original 2 cups was not used to braise the chicken.
  21. Bring to a boil and cook for one minute. The sauce should be quite thick. It will thin with the addition of sour cream. If the sauce is too thin, boil it longer as you will not be able to boil it once the sour cream has been added.
  22. Stir in the sour cream. Adjust salt and pepper. Add the chicken and heat gently without boiling.
Recipe Notes

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Auntie Helen’s Roman Chicken Cacciatore

Pollo alla Cacciatora (Chicken Cacciatore, in English) means Chicken Hunter’s Style and there are as many styles as there are hunters and cooks.

I grew up eating a Southern Italian version in a red sauce with peppers and mushrooms.

This recipe, using anchovies and no vegetables, is from Rome and goes back to the late 1800’s at least.  I learned it from Auntie Helen.  Auntie Helen was actually the aunt of Eugene (Gene) d’Aquili, my undergraduate advisor at the University of Pennsylvania and the psychiatrist with whom I set up my psychiatric practice in Philadelphia many years later.

Gene’s grandparents left Rome around the turn of the 20th century and moved to Trenton, New Jersey with their four children, Guido, Helen, Louise and a fourth daughter who died shortly after the move.

Gene’s father, Guido, was an artist and part of what was sometimes referred to as the New Hope School after a town of the same name in Pennsylvania on the New Jersey border.  He painted a series of Old King Cole murals similar to the ones Maxfield Parrish painted for the St. Regis in New York City.

Those murals ended up on the walls of my dining room in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.  For several years, from early medical school until partway through my internship, I rented the carriage house on the d’Aquili estate in Berwyn.  The murals were installed in the dining room after the d’Aquili family purchased them from the social club in Trenton that had originally commissioned them.

Here are some pictures of the murals.

There is a blog that features the murals and information about them, if you’re interested.

Here is a picture of my parents, standing in front of one of the murals in my dining room.  I believe this was taken in May 1981 when I graduated medical school.

Auntie Helen and Auntie Louise never married.  They both became school teachers and lived in Morrisville, New Jersey until the early 1980’s when they moved into the carriage house on the d’Aquili estate that I vacated after I bought my first house.

Auntie Helen was a wonderful cook.  This recipe for pollo alla cacciatora came from her, and before her, from her mother.  Don’t let the anchovies put you off, even if you don’t like anchovies.  The “fishiness” cooks away leaving a savory, umami flavor.  I will bet you that none of your guests will guess that there are anchovies in this dish.

In addition to her other wonderful Italian specialties, including brodetto, panpeppato, and cheese bread, the last of which unfortunately I do not have a recipe, among others, Auntie Helen made some American dishes that were fashionable at the time including Impossible Tuna Pie!

I want to give a shout out to Julie Paradise for reintroducing me to Impossible Pies.  Julie is the master of the genre and her pecan version is going to end up on my table soon!


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Roman Chicken Cacciatore
As an alternative to cutting up a whole chicken, chicken parts can be used. Thighs work particularly well for the long, slow cooking technique. If using chicken parts, use about 3 pounds. This chicken goes well with polenta. I suggest using yellow cornmeal for a color contrast with the dark sauce. A link to my polenta recipe can be found in the Notes section following the recipe.
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Course Mains, Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Mains, Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
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Instructions
  1. Cut the chicken into pieces, legs, thighs, and breasts. You can cut the breasts in half crosswise if you like. Reserve the back and wings for another use.
  2. Remove the skin from the chicken.
  3. Bruise the garlic with the side of a chef's knife.
  4. In a skillet large enough to comfortably hold the chicken, and that has a lid, heat the olive oil until it is almost smoking.
  5. Add the chicken. Do not disturb the chicken until it is crusted and releases easily from the pan, 4-5 minutes.
  6. Turn the chicken over. Add the bruised garlic to the pan. Brown the other side of the chicken, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent the olive oil from smoking.
  7. If the garlic starts getting dark brown, remove it before it burns. Reserve the browned garlic, however.
  8. When the chicken is well browned on all sides (legs don’t really have “sides” so you will need to turn them around a bit), add the anchovies and their oil. They will splatter a bit.
  9. Work the anchovies with a spoon so they start to disintegrate.
  10. Have the cover ready. Turn the heat to low. Add the water and quickly cover the pan to reduce splattering. Wait 2-3 minutes until the rapid sizzling has slowed down.
  11. Turn the chicken. Add the vinegar and return the browned garlic to the pan if you removed it earlier. If the water has evaporated when you remove the lid to add the vinegar, add another two tablespoons of water along with the vinegar and garlic. Add oregano and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  12. Braise covered for 1 ½ to 2 hours on gentle heat, turning every 20-30 minutes. Add water, two tablespoons at a time, whenever the liquid in the pan has evaporated.
  13. Add an extra grinding of pepper before removing the chicken from the heat. Adjust salt if necessary.
Recipe Notes

Here is my recipe for Polenta.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Italian Slow-Roasted Chicken or Turkey

April 21, 2017

For two countries that are geographically so close, Italy and France couldn’t be further apart on views of how to roast poultry.

The French typically roast quickly and at high temperature.

Italians are masters of the low and slow approach.

Italian roast chicken (or turkey, for that matter) literally falls apart.  The French version does not.  It’s a matter of style and technique, not quality or skill.

The usual style in the United States leans more toward France than Italy.  It’s the basis of the style of roasting described in most modern cookbooks and cooking magazines; higher temperatures rather than lower temperatures and yanking the bird out of the oven as soon as it reaches the minimum acceptable temperature to be “cooked” and “safe.”  Even when these magazines try to champion the approach of low and slow, they almost always miss the boat.  They miss the boat because they are still focused on the thermometer approach.

You can’t do low and slow if you’re focused on getting the bird out of the oven as soon as it hits the “safe” temperature.  Italian roast chicken is more like “pulled” chicken than the minimally cooked French version.  The whole mouthfeel is different.  So is the taste.

What I didn’t understand growing up is that my mother’s roast chicken and turkey drew from a broader Italian approach.

A few years ago we were in Tuscany having lunch with my husband’s Great Uncle Beppe and his family.

When the roast chicken was served, it was just like my mother’s!  Seasoned with garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper and roasted slowly, till it basically fell apart.

My mother’s mother came to the United States from Calabria around the turn of the 20th century at four years of age.  Here I was, nearly a century later in a province at the other end of the Italian peninsula eating chicken that could have been my mother’s, the way she learned it from her mother, who learned it from her mother.

I think that was a turning point for me in wanting to better understand Italian food traditions throughout the country and even throughout the Italian diaspora around the world.

Another amazing thing, when I think about it, is that my mother brined her chicken for an hour before cooking.  We’re talking the 1960’s here (probably the 1950’s too but I’m too young to remember that) way before brining was ever mentioned in cooking circles.  I can’t tell you why she did it or how it started but when I was learning to cook under her guidance, brining was always the first step for any recipe that included chicken.

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Italian Slow-Roasted Chicken or Turkey
This is a no-recipe recipe. I never measure the seasonings. It’s really pretty hard to use an inappropriate amount. The cooking time is pretty forgiving, too. Until you get the hang of it, I suggest planning on the longer cooking time and the higher temperature. If the chicken or turkey is falling-apart tender before you’re ready for it, just reduce the oven to 150°F to keep the bird warm. My mother would usually brine the bird for about an hour before cooking. Time permitting, I do the same. This basic recipe works for everything from a three pound chicken to an 18 pound turkey. Just for a point of reference, the pictures feature a 12 pound turkey.
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Course Mains, Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes per pound
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Mains, Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes per pound
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Instructions
  1. Brine the bird, if you like, for about an hour.
  2. Thoroughly rinse and dry the bird.
  3. Prop the bird with the cavity facing up. Generously season the inside of the bird with garlic powder, rosemary black pepper and salt. As a matter of habit, if I'm using dried rosemary, I always crust it with my fingers before sprinkling it on the bird.
  4. Put the bird in a roasting pan, breast up, preferably one able to hold the bird rather snugly. The roasting pan should have a tight-fitting cover.
  5. Generously season the outside of the bird with garlic powder, rosemary, black pepper and salt.
  6. Add water (or wine) to the bottom of the roasting pan not over the top of the bird. You don't want to displace the seasonings.
  7. Cover and roast at 350°F for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 275°F to 300°F.
  8. After the first hour, baste the bird with the juices in the roasting pan about every 30-45 minutes. Be sure to tip the bird, or use a basting bulb, to remove the juices from the cavity and add them to the juices in the bottom of the roasting pan.
  9. Roast for a total of 30-40 minutes per pound (including the first half hour). The bird should just about be falling off the bone.
  10. If there is too much liquid in the bottom of the pan or if the bird is not brown enough, uncover the pan for the last 30 minutes or so.
Recipe Notes

Poultry cooked this way will not submit to carving in a photogenic Norman Rockwell manner. It’s just a different style. It would be like trying to cut delicate slices from pulled pork. It’s not going to happen. That said, the joints will usually separate easily and you can cut along the grain rather than against the grain to portion appropriate-sized pieces for serving.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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Pollo all’Uccelleto (Chicken Little Bird Style)

January 23, 2017

I first tasted this dish in Tuscany in the little hill town of Benabbio, in September 1996.  My husband’s great Great Aunt Fidalma, Zia Fidalma, made it with little birds, sparrows actually, that her husband, Faliero, had shot.

That was one of my most memorable meals in Italy.  My husband and I had traveled to Italy with his parents.  We stayed in a little hotel in the town of Fornoli where my father-in-law grew up.  We alternated meals at the homes of numerous relatives throughout the area.

It was wonderful sitting in Zia Fidalma’s kitchen watching her put together components of the meal in that seemingly effortless way that happens in homes throughout Italy.  We had sautéed mushroom caps.  Zia Fidalma foraged the mushrooms.  I remember them sitting in a shallow box on the kitchen counter.  She plucked a few out of the box, cleaned them.  They were quickly sautéed and seasoned with salt, pepper, and nepita.

I can’t get a consensus on the spelling of nepita.  I’ve seen it as gnebita, gnepita, and nepeta, among others.  It is a variety of catmint.  Zia Fidalma uses it to season mushrooms.  It is a magical combination.

We smuggled nepita seeds back from Tuscany on that visit, along with heirloom tomato seeds, both from Zio Faliero’s garden.  We’ve grown both ever since.  For 20-plus years we’ve had nepita; first in our garden in Chicago (at the Rohkam House, where we lived starting in January 1996) and then subsequently at Villa Sentieri, in Santa Fe.

The Rohkam House when we lived there.
The Rohkam House shortly after it was built in 1887.

There are only three components of that meal that I remember clearly, the mushrooms, the little birds, and the wedge of Parmigiano Reggiano brought out at the end of the meal for us to eat with fruit.  I know there was a pasta but I can’t remember what it was.  The same is true for the side dishes (contorni, in Italian).

My mother-in-law was in heaven with the little birds.  She was sitting across the table from me. The meal had become languorous by then and it wasn’t, somehow, inappropriate for me to pull out my video camera.  Remember those?  I’m talking about dedicated video cameras with cassettes for recording, not phones or cameras with video capability.

As she was reveling in her little birds (uccelleti, in Italian) I used my video camera to focus in on her.  First on her face, but then ultimately on just her lips.  Her lips filled the screen like the lips in the opening moments of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  There were those lips, sucking in little bird parts then extruding cleaned bones.  Every now and then there was the occasional bit of bird shot that needed to be eliminated.

To this day, that video footage is a kind of kompromat in our family.  Thanks to President Trump for making that term common knowledge.  My mother-in-law hates that video footage.  I occasionally mention its existence and (vaguely) threaten to allow it to surface…as I did for this post but, in the end, in the interest of domestic harmony, did not.

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Pollo all'Uccelleto (Chicken Little Bird Style)
I first had this dish in Tuscany. It was made, literally, with little birds (blackbirds) bagged by my husband’s Great Uncle Faliero. Since little birds are not easily available in the US, I rendered the dish using chicken after returning from the 1996 trip to Italy. I called it “Chicken Little Bird Style” or “Pollo all’Uccelleto.” Much to my surprise, years later, I discovered that Italians do, in fact, refer to this preparation as “all’Uccelleto,” and use it on things other than little birds (chicken, for example). What simply started out as Uccelleti, “Little Birds,” became for me "Pollo all’Uccelleto," or “Chicken Little Bird Style.” From Great Aunt Fidalma’s kitchen to you is Chicken Little Bird Style. If you actually have little birds, by all means, give them a try. If not, chicken thighs are a great, if less gamey, substitute. Use good quality olives for this dish. If you don’t have access to an Italian market, I suggest using olives from the olive and antipasto bar that is common in many supermarkets these days. I usually use half oil-cured black olives and half green olives, such as castelvetrano. I prefer using olives with pits.
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Course Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Poultry
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 1/2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
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Instructions
  1. Remove the leaves from the rosemary and oregano.
  2. Mince the sage, rosemary, and oregano leaves. Reserve.
  3. Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and any large pieces of fat.
  4. Using the broad side of a chef’s knife, bruise (smash, really) the garlic cloves.
  5. In a heavy skillet large enough to hold the chicken thighs in a single layer, heat the olive oil.
  6. When the oil is hot, add the chicken thighs and garlic. Season the chicken with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  7. Brown the chicken, turning several times. As the garlic cloves get dark brown, remove and discard them before they burn.
  8. When the chicken is brown, and all garlic has been removed, add the tomato sauce, bay leaves, minced herbs (rosemary, sage, and oregano) and crushed red pepper.
  9. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally and turning chicken over every 30 minutes or so, for approximately 1 hour.
  10. If the sauce gets too dry add a little white wine (or water) from time to time.
  11. After an hour, add the olives, cover, and continue cooking over low heat, stirring occasionally and turning chicken over every 30 minutes or so, for approximately 1 more hour.
  12. Taste and adjust salt and black pepper during the last half hour of cooking. The olives will be salty, so it's best to wait till they've cooked a while before adding more salt.
  13. When finished, the chicken should truly be “fall-apart” tender and the sauce should be mostly a red colored olive oil with just a tiny bit of tomato sauce.
Recipe Notes

I don’t usually use canned tomato sauce. I prefer to use tomato paste and water. For this dish I use tomato sauce because so little is needed and it’s consistent with what Great Aunt Fidalma did. If you want to use tomato paste, mix 1½ tablespoons of tomato paste with 6 tablespoons of water and use in place of the tomato sauce.

Copyright © 2017 by VillaSentieri.com. All rights reserved.

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