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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Mom’s Potatoes with Tomato Sauce

July 19, 2017

Pasta.  Potatoes.  Bread.

I crave carbohydrates.  I can go about three to four days without eating pasta before I start to really crave it.

Funny, because we only had pasta about once or twice a week while I was growing up.

We did, however, have potatoes on many of the intervening days.

Sometimes we’d have gnocchi (little pasta dumplings made with potatoes and flour) or pierogi (pasta stuffed with potatoes)!  Though there are many other pierogi fillings, potato and cheese was the preferred variation in our house.

Once, when I hadn’t been home from college for a while, I asked my mom to make either pierogi or baba (sometimes Anglicized to bubba) for me for dinner.  She made both.  There wasn’t a piece of meat in sight.  She knew me all too well.  Meanwhile, the two college friends who came home with me were aghast at the absence of meat…and vegetables for that matter!

Americans, by and large, are not protein deficient so the occasional meal without meat or another major protein source isn’t an issue.

My mom’s potatoes with tomato sauce were usually served alongside sausage.  Typically, it would be hot Italian fennel sausage that was browned in a skillet then braised slowly with some water to tenderize it.

If we were having kielbasa, the second most common sausage in our house, my mom would make a version of these potatoes without the tomato sauce.  She’d get the potatoes good and brown and then cover the pan for a bit to trap the moisture and tenderize the potatoes without making them mushy.

Since my mom made a big pot of slow-cooked Southern Italian sugo most every Sunday, there was a ready supply of homemade tomato sauce for these potatoes.  In my house, unfortunately, I don’t make that kind of sauce often enough (though I plan on changing that) and it always seems like a luxury to use some of it for these potatoes as opposed to putting the sauce on pasta.

I have found, however, that my uncooked pizza sauce works well.  In a pinch canned or bottled tomato puree is good too (or even one of those 8 ounce cans of tomato “sauce”).  If using canned puree, add a pinch or two of oregano for flavor.

While Italian versions of potatoes cooked in tomato sauce usually end up being more “saucy,” this Italian-American version turns the tomato sauce into little more than a coating on the potatoes.


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Mom's Potatoes with Tomato Sauce
This variation on home-fried potatoes was common in our house. Cooking potatoes in tomato sauce is very Italian but this variation, which includes bell pepper and onion, and where the tomato sauce is basically cooked away, is more Italian-American. The tomato sauce could be leftover homemade pasta sauce (without meat) or pizza sauce. It can also be canned tomato puree. If using puree, I suggest adding a few pinches of dried oregano for flavor.
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Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 75 minutes
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
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Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Peel the potatoes. Cut them crosswise into ¼ inch thick slices.
  2. Cut the bell pepper into 1/3 inch dice.
  3. Dice the onion.
  4. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a 12 inch skillet.
  5. When the oil is hot, add the potatoes. The potatoes should start sizzling immediately. Season the potatoes with 1 teaspoon of salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Do not stir the potatoes just yet.
  6. Allow the potatoes to brown on the bottom.
  7. These are getting browner on the bottom but not ready to turn yet.
  8. When the potatoes on the bottom have turned golden brown, use a spatula to flip and separate them.
  9. When approximately 1/3 of the potatoes are browned, add the bell pepper.
  10. Continue cooking, allowing the potatoes on the bottom to brown more before flipping and separating, until about ½ of the potatoes are browned and the bell pepper is just beginning to char.
  11. Add the onion.
  12. Continue cooking until the potatoes are nicely browned and the onion is golden. Adjust the heat as needed to prevent the potatoes and onions from burning, though a few dark spots won’t be a problem.
  13. Taste and adjust salt and pepper.
  14. Add the tomato sauce to the potatoes. Mix well.
  15. Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender, but not mushy, stirring occasionally. Approximately 45-60 minutes more. The tomato sauce should have pretty much completely evaporated, leaving the potatoes coated in red.
  16. The potatoes ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

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

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Mom’s Slow-Braised Pork Chops

June 16, 2017

Just last week my mother-in-law breaded and quickly pan-fried pork chops for dinner.  They were tender, juicy and truly wonderful.

Now that grilling weather has finally reached Santa Fe, we’ll have pork chops quickly cooked on the grill throughout the summer.  I’ll even grill the occasional pork tenderloin seasoned with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and rosemary.

I really enjoy juicy, quickly-cooked pork.  However, I also really, really enjoy the style of pork chops that I at while growing up:  thin-cut pork chops cooked slowly in a sauté pan until they are deep brown.

No doubt, this is an entirely different dish from cooking the chops just enough to reach that “magic” temperature of 140°F that the USDA says is “safe.”  It won’t be to everyone’s taste (what is?) but in the interest of presenting an array of very traditional dishes I’m including it.

Just a few nights ago while in Palm Springs, I was served thick-cut braised pork chops cooked by a good friend, John O’Malley, following a recipe from Marcella Hazan.  I use the same recipe from Marcella when I want to cook thick-cut chops for company (ever since John turned me onto it a while back).

Marcella was from Northern Italy, my mother’s family from far Southern Italy, but the two dishes share a style that highlights a common feature of traditional Italian cuisine.  That is, a cut of meat that could be cooked quickly is, instead, cooked slowly coaxing out more flavor and changing the texture in the process.

The realization of the similarity of these two dishes is like the experience I wrote about in April 2017 describing roast chicken I ate in Tuscany that tasted, for all the world, like the falling-apart roast chicken seasoned with garlic and rosemary that my mother made.

Quick cooking is just one style but reading contemporary recipes one would think it’s the only way to cook many cuts of meat.  We all agree that there are cuts that must be cooked long and slow for optimum texture: think Southern Pulled-Pork Barbecue, Hawaiian Roast Pig, Beef Brisket, or Pot Roast, for example.  I challenge you to find a contemporary recipe for roast chicken or sautéed pork chops that doesn’t call for the minimum cooking time and final temperature.  It’s as if we’ve forgotten that these meats can also be cooked low and slow for a qualitatively different dish.

Recording this kind of diversity traditional foodways is one of my main goals for this blog.

As I describe on the About page of this website, I’ve had the very good fortune to cook alongside incredible cooks from many different parts of the world but even that only begins to scratch the surface of traditional foods.  And while I’ve got recipes planned well into next year, I think it’s time to bring in other voices, other stories.

From time to time I am going to feature a blog post, and accompanying recipe, based on interviews with folks who have chosen to share a treasured family recipe and a story to go along with it.  There are several individuals who have volunteered to be in the vanguard of this effort.

If you have a family recipe that you’d like to share, send me an email or add a comment and I’ll follow up.

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Mom's Slow-Braised Pork Chops
If these chops are being served as part of an Italian-style meal, preceded by pasta, rice or soup, and accompanied by several side dishes, one per person should be enough. Without a pasta course, an average eater could easily consume two of these and someone with a hearty appetite could eat three or four! A sauté pan with a very heavy bottom is needed to avoid hot spots. The chops will be cooked on low heat for most of the time and it is important that the pan conduct the heat well to avoid hot and cool spots for optimum browning. I prefer center-cut pork loin chops, these have a bit of loin and a bit of tenderloin, essentially the same cut as a T-bone steak. Loin chops (without the tenderloin), as shown in the pictures, work well too.
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Course Mains, Meats
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Course Mains, Meats
Cuisine Italian
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Servings
people
Ingredients
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Instructions
  1. Season the chops generously with salt, pepper and garlic powder.
  2. Using a sauté pan that has a very heavy bottom and that is large enough to hold the chops without crowding, heat the oil until it just begins to smoke over high heat.
  3. Add the chops and reduce heat to medium high.
  4. Cook the chops, undisturbed, until nicely browned, approximately 2 minutes.
  5. Turn the chops over. If the oil was very hot when the chops were added and if you didn't disturb them while they browned, they should easily release from the pan without sticking.
  6. Brown other side. Approximately 2 minutes.
  7. Turn the chops over. Have the cover ready. Add the wine, immediately cover the pan, and turn the heat to low.
  8. Cook, covered, until the wine evaporates, 15 minutes more or less.
  9. After the wine evaporates the pan juices will start to brown. When they do, add 2-3 tablespoons of water and turn the chops over. Cook, covered, until the water evaporates and pan juices get a little bit darker.
  10. Repeat this process until the chops are falling apart tender and the pan juices are a deep brown. This will take 1 ½ to 2 hours.
  11. At the end there should only be a couple of tablespoons of water plus the oil in the pan. Pour this sauce over the chops when serving. It should have a rich umami porky flavor.
Recipe Notes

I rarely use garlic powder. The dishes for which I consistently use garlic powder instead of fresh garlic are Italian slow-roasted poultry, the pork chops featured in this recipe, and steaks. I find that I just can’t get the flavor that I want from fresh garlic in these instances.

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

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