Written and Photographed by Rebecca Peters-Golden
I think Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap: candy, hearts, flowers—I mean, it would turn anybody’s stomach. More of a traditionalist, myself, I prefer to meditate on Saints Valentine of Terni and Valentine of Rome, martyred in the second century, or the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, a mob murder in Prohibition-era Chicago. Good times. And, of course, it’s a quick hop from martyrs and massacres to . . . you guessed it: Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula, when he’s at home. You want romance? That’s romance. And it all starts over a modest bowl of thick, velvety Chicken Paprikash, a traditional Hungarian stew.
In Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), hapless, well-intentioned solicitor Jonathan Harker travels to Transylvania for the first time at the behest of a new client. A client whose table manners are perfect, even if he doesn’t seem to eat. Still, Jonathan is wined and dined—and almost dined on.
Jonathan notes in his journal that eating so much paprika gives him “all sorts of queer dreams” one night, as a dog howls under his window (5). Now, I don’t know about all that, but the lovely red color makes a pink sauce that is perfect for a romantic meal à deux. Bonus for Valentine’s Day: it’s a great, strong flavor that isn’t garlic, so your breath will be safe for your date (especially if your date is a vampire). So, I wish you the best of luck for a Valentine’s Day that is a little bit less candy hearts and a little bit more delicious dinner with a date that may or may not inspire an undying passion that will last beyond the grave!
From Jonathan’s journal:
“3 May. Bistritz–Left Munich at 8.35 p.m. on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning. . . . Buda-Pesth seems a wonderful place, from the glimpse which I got of it from the train and the little I could walk through the streets. . . The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East. . . I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem., get recipe for Mina.) I asked the waiter, and he said it was called ‘paprika hendle,’ and that as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians” (3).
Oh, Jonathan, if only this recipe were all you brought back to London with you. . .
(fit for Dracula, if he ate . . . food, that is)
Total time: 45 minutes (with a trick to cut it to 20)
Makes 2 servings
- 4 chicken boneless, skinless chicken thighs (you can use breasts, or bone-in thighs if you prefer)*
- kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 red bell pepper
- 4 tablespoons Hungarian or sweet paprika
- 4 chicken bouillon cubes, or 2 cups very flavorful stock
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 2 tablespoons flour
- cooked egg noodles (you could sub in rice, potatoes, spaetzle, dumplings, or bread)
- butter to taste
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken dry, then lightly salt and pepper it on both sides. Brown the chicken, about 4 minutes per side (5 or 6 minutes for bone-in thighs or breasts). While the chicken is cooking, slice the red pepper and onion. When chicken is browned, set aside.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in the Dutch oven and add the sliced onion and pepper. Add paprika and a sprinkle of salt and pepper (being careful not to over-salt, as it can overpower the delicacy of the paprika). Cook for about 5-7 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally, then lower the heat to medium. While cooking, dissolve 4 bouillon cubes in 2 cups hot water, if not using premade stock.
Return the chicken to the pan and pour in the stock. Simmer, covered, for 8-10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally. Uncover and simmer for a few more minutes to allow the sauce to thicken. Turn the heat down to low.
Whisk the sour cream and flour together in a small bowl. Once the pan sauce has developed, stir about 1 cup of the sauce into the sour cream and flour. This tempers the sour cream. Add the sour cream mixture to the pan and stir gently to finish the sauce. Add additional paprika to taste.
Serve the chicken paprikash on a bed of egg noodles (or rice, spaetzle, dumplings, etc.; or just dunk thick slices of buttered bread).
*Note: This is a great dish to make if you have leftover chicken from last night’s dinner that you want to use up. You can shred or chop up cooked pieces of chicken, or use a store-bought roasted chicken to cut your cooking time down considerably. Just skip directly to cooking the onions and peppers, and add your pre-cooked chicken then.