Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Chicken Paprikash

The cold of winter means this is a great time for comfort food–dishes that warm and fill you and provide energy for cleaning off the walks and braving the snows of northeast Ohio. Glancing through volume one of Recipes of Youngstown reminded me of one of the standby comfort dishes in many of our households (and school cafeterias staffed by Youngstown mommas)–chicken paprikash.

We need to thank the Hungarian immigrants to Youngstown for this dish (paprikás csirke or csirkepaprikás in Hungarian), whose name comes obviously from the chicken that is used and the sweet (not hot!) Hungarian paprika used in the recipe. At the end, I will point you to some recipes (I don’t have one of my own) and a really cool video I found on making this dish.

It starts with melted shortening in which you brown, not burn chopped onions (some also like to add garlic, or celery and carrots, green peppers, and chopped tomatoes). After browning you add in the paprika and combine all this, then put in your chicken pieces, making sure they are coated with the mixture and salted and seasoned to taste. Then you add water (some recipes add chicken broth, which may add some flavor) so the mixture doesn’t stick to your pot, and to create the “stock base” for your sour cream gravy which you will make later.  Cook the chicken thoroughly on medium low heat for an hour, then remove it, saving the mixture of water, paprika and onion, to which you add cornstarch to thicken and sour cream for richness. Toward the end, you will also make the nokedli, a type of Hungarian, dumpling-like egg noodle (you can also use regular egg noodles or rice, though this is not as authentically Hungarian). You can buy pre-made nokedli in an ethnic grocery and prepare as you would egg noodles, or make your own for even more authentic taste, if you have the time.

To serve, place the chicken pieces over the nokedli, and coat with the gravy and you have a great comfort food! What I always remember as well is how delicious this makes a house smell–mouth-wateringly so!

As I mentioned there are a couple of recipes in the first volume of Recipes of Youngstown (the link is to a site where you can order this and its sequel!). One is from college friend, Lynne Stephens, which came to her through her mother from her Hungarian mother-in-law. The editors must have thought it so good that it appears twice, on pages 103 and 123! Also, on page 128 you will find “Nancy Inglefield’s Chicken Paprikash” which includes instructions for making egg dumplings.

I also located a delightful video demonstration of making chicken paprikash that is part of the “Cooking with Oma” videos. If nothing else, this is a delight to watch just to listen to the accent of this Hungarian “Oma” and to see her billowy white house dress, and her explanation of why she wears it! It’s longer than some of the other videos, but it just seemed the most authentic.

Characteristic of Youngstown food, there is nothing fancy (or at least no fancier than sour cream)–just basic ingredients and inexpensive chicken, but a unique way to present chicken that is perfect for those cold winter nights.

What were your memories of chicken paprikash? Any recipe secrets to the perfect chicken paprikash that you would care to share?

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