- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Autumn’s arrival makes me want to head straight into my kitchen to make one of my favorite childhood dishes, chicken paprikash. I have three good reasons why I love to make this stew-like saute of chicken, onions and paprika.

First is the warm, spicy flavor of the paprika itself. This form of peppers, which are grown to red ripeness and then dried and ground to a powder, has a wonderfully warm, sweet taste that has long made it a favorite in the kitchens not only of Eastern Europe but also Scandinavia, Spain and America. I can think of no other spice that gives a dish quite the same glow of color and flavor, perfect for a chilly fall evening.

Please make a special effort to look for good-quality imported paprika from Hungary or Spain. You’ll find both sweet and hot varieties, either of which will work well, depending on your desire for heat. I like to blend together both sweet and hot varieties when I make chicken paprikash, which gives the dish a wonderfully balanced flavor, not too spicy and not too mild. Since paprika, even more than many spices, loses its impact over time, get yours from a market or Internet seller that has a good turnover of product, and don’t buy much more than you’ll use in several months, storing it in an airtight container at cool room temperature.

My next reason for craving the dish is how well paprika goes with chicken. The spice, and the other seasonings that accompany it, pays the perfect compliment to the flavor of a good-quality free-range bird. But even if you’re using a more bland-tasting chicken, the complexity of the spice will give it a really interesting flavor that will surprise and please you.

Even though so many people are tempted to use boneless, skinless chicken from the market, for reasons of both convenience and health, try to start with bone-in chicken pieces. They will not only cost less but also, thanks to the presence of the bones during cooking, will yield more flavorful, juicier results. If you must, simply remove the skin and bones after cooking, before you return the chicken to the sauce for its final warming up.

Finally, there is the ease with which you can prepare this dish for a family dinner, even on a busy weeknight. It comes together in little more than an hour, yet makes such a big impression that everyone else might think you’ve spent the whole afternoon cooking. Add boiled noodles, steamed rice, or even mashed potatoes to soak up all the delicious sauce, and you have the perfect feast to share as the nights begin to draw in.

CHICKEN PAPRIKASH

Serves 4 to 6

1 teaspoon whole caraway seeds

3 pounds (1.5 kg) bone-in chicken breasts, with or without skin, as you like

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons sweet paprika

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup (60 ml) peanut oil

4 cups (1 l) thinly sliced onions

2 tablespoons minced garlic

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup (250 ml) peeled, seeded, and chopped tomato

2 tablespoons minced marjoram leaves

1 teaspoon minced thyme leaves

1 bay leaf

1 cup (250 ml) dry white wine

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 cups (500 ml) chicken stock or good-quality canned chicken broth

1/4 cup (60 ml) heavy cream

2 tablespoons creme fraiche

2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cored, and seeded, 1 cut into 1-inch by 1/4-inch strips

2 tablespoons minced parsley leaves

First, toast the caraway seeds. Put them in a small, dry saute pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and stir until cool. Grind the seeds to a powder with a mortar and pestle or an electric spice mill. Set aside.

With a sharp, heavy knife, cut each chicken breast crosswise into 3 pieces. Sprinkle all over with salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of the paprika. Spread the flour on a plate and lightly roll the pieces in the flour. Heat a large, straight-sided shallow braising pan over high heat. Add the peanut oil and, when it is hot, shake off excess flour from the chicken pieces and add them to the pan. Saute them until they are seared golden brown all over, 7 to 10 minutes. With tongs, remove the chicken from the pan to a plate or bowl and set aside.

Add the onions to the pan and saute them until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ground caraway seeds and saute 1 minute more. Add the tomato paste, tomato and remaining paprika and stir until well blended. Add the marjoram, thyme and bay leaf. Pour in the wine and vinegar and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan deposits. Add the chicken broth and season to taste with more salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil.

Add the reserved chicken pieces. Partially cover the pan, reduce the heat, and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and continue to simmer until the chicken is tender, about 10 minutes more.

With tongs, transfer the chicken pieces to a large saute pan. Remove and discard the bay leaf from the braising pan; pour the remaining contents into a blender or a food processor fitted with the stainless-steel blade. Add the roasted pepper that has not been cut into strips. Covering the lid of the processor or blender, and leaving the blender lid slightly ajar or the processor feed tube open to avoid any dangerous rush of steam, process the mixture to form a thick, smoothly pureed sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Pour the sauce over chicken and cook over medium heat just until heated through. Reheat until warm. Serve over rice or noodles, garnished with dollops of creme fraiche, bell pepper strips, and parsley.

(Chef Wolfgang Puck’s new TV series, “Wolfgang Puck’s Cooking Class,” airs Sundays and Wednesdays on the Food Network. Write Wolfgang Puck in care of Tribune Media Services Inc., 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY. 14207.)

2004 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC.

DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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