This is kind of a 2-for-1 recipe post. Chicken paprikash is another dish that David introduced to me early in our relationship. It has quickly become one of my go-to recipes for its ease and amazing flavor. As you might imagine, paprika is the main ingredient in this dish. Paprika originated in Central Mexico and was brought to Spain in the 16th century before making its way to Hungary where it would become a staple of Hungarian cuisine in the 19th century. Paprika can range in flavor from mild and sweet to hot. Chicken paprikash, considered the national dish of Hungary, uses sweet paprika as the preferred variant. I can speak to this personally, as I have made it with a hotter Spanish paprika and I ended up with a darker paprikash that was spicy, which detracted from the flavor I had come to expect in paprikash made with the sweet paprika. Traditionally this dish is made with quartered chicken parts but the use of boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs is also common nowadays.
This recipe is perfect for discussing a bit of science. The bright color of paprika comes from carotenoids found in the red peppers (Capsicum annuum) that are dried and ground to produce this crimson spice. Carotenoids are a family of pigments that are natural food colors and antioxidants. They are a yellow-orange-red pigment produced by plants, algae, and microorganisms. Vitamin A and beta-carotene are examples of carotenoids. In fact, one teaspoon of paprika has 21% of the Daily Value for Vitamin A, a nutrient important for preventing night blindness. While food researchers are still examining the degree of degradation that carotenoids undergo during the production and storage of paprika and epidemiologists continue to search for additional health benefits of incorporating carotenoids into one’s diet, it still stands that paprika is a tasty way to add flavor and color to your meals.
Now we move onto the spätzle. Found in many European countries, it is an egg noodle that goes by many names, depending on which part of Europe you happen to find yourself. In Hungary, it is known as nokedli and is served with chicken paprikash. I was first introduced to spätzle while taking German in high school. About once or twice a year we would take field trips to German restaurants around Portland and spätzle was always one of the featured side dishes, accompanying bratwurst or chicken schnitzel. One of the restaurants we frequented, The Rheinlander, was a Portland institution full of rooms decorated in various scenes from Bavaria and the Alps. It was only open for dinner and the entrees all came as part of a 4-course meal, starting with cheese fondue, followed by a salad or lentil soup, then your entree, and the meal rounded out with apple strudel. Not only was the waitstaff busy serving up these various courses, but throughout the evening they would pause to sing German folk songs and various other musical numbers, such as Elvis’s “Wooden Heart” and songs from The Sound of Music. During the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I spent 4-5 nights a week working as a server’s assistant (read: glorified busboy) at this restaurant. Along with clearing and setting tables and refilling drinks, I too got to sing for the diners. My favorite memory of working there was singing “Edelweiss” for my grandparent’s as they enjoyed an anniversary dinner at “The Anniversary Table,” which was set in a little nook, providing couples a semi-secluded space for a romantic dinner. Unfortunately, The Rheinlander closed earlier this year. However, the food lives on in their cookbook full of many of their beloved recipes, which I bought before returning to Madison for my sophomore year. Their spätzle recipe is the recipe I’ve made most frequently from the cookbook. It’s a simple and quick recipe, but it does require a special contraption I inherited from my grandparent’s kitchen. You can find a spätzle maker on Amazon here, though I imagine you could also easily use a potato ricer fitted with a coarser setting or a large colander and a spatula.
David’s Chicken Paprikash
This is a quick and easy meal to make on a weeknight. The leftovers are also really good, so it is perfect for meal prepping for those busy weeks when you need a quick lunch to take to work or school. As mentioned above, I found that I did not enjoy the flavor as much when I used a spicier Spanish paprika, so I recommend sticking with a milder sweet paprika. Spätzle pairs really well with this dish, but egg noodles are just as good. David also recommends serving with rice or mashed potatoes.
2 chicken breasts, cut into to 1/2-1″ cubes
2-3 tablespoons butter, plus more as needed
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons paprika
1 large onion, halved through poles, both poles removed, and thinly sliced along the poles
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Salt & pepper, to taste
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Brown the chicken, but don’t worry about cooking thoroughly. Transfer chicken to a bowl and set aside. To the skillet add onions, cooking until they brown a little. You may need to add another tablespoon of butter at this point if it is looking too dry. Add garlic, paprika, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, cornstarch, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Saute for a quick 30-60 seconds. Add the chicken stock and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat so the mixture is simmering. Add the chicken and any juices, stirring to mix. Cook covered for 15 minutes on low heat. In a small bowl, whisk the sour cream with some of the liquid, then add the mixture to the skillet. Simmer until sauce is to your desired consistency; it should not be too thin, enough to coat the back of a spoon. If too thick, thin with a little chicken stock. If mixture appears too thin, add 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch or simmer to reduce. Serve with egg noodles, mashed or boiled potatoes, or even rice.
The Rheinlander’s Spätzle
These little delicious noodles go great with chicken paprikash, stroganoff, Swedish meatballs, chicken schnitzel, bratwurst, or simply by themselves. The Rheinlander used to have this on their kids menu served as a macaroni and cheese dish covered in cheese sauce. It is also good tossed with Alfredo sauce, topped with Parmesan cheese and baked until it has a slightly golden crust.
- 2 eggs
- 6 tablespoons milk
- 1 1/3 cups flour
- Dash of ground nutmeg
- Pinch of white pepper
- Salt to taste
Whisk together the eggs, milk, and seasonings in a medium bowl. With a rubber spatula, add the flour and mix until combined. It should have a wet, tacky consistency that holds its shape when being handled, but loses its shape once it comes to rest. Do not overwork the batter. Allow it to rest for about 10-15 minutes. While the dough is resting, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Once boiling, transfer the dough to the spätzle maker (or potato ricer or colander), allowing the dough to slowly drip into the boiling water. The spätzle will float to the surface when they are finished. I usually make them in two batches, transferring the cooked spätzle to a small bowl or colander halfway through. Once all the spätzle is cooked, heat a non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Melt about a tablespoon of butter and add the spätzle. Gently saute the spätzle until you get a little color on them and they begin to brown ever so slightly. Serve topped with Parmesan, Swiss, or mozzarella cheese, alongside one of the dishes mentioned in the note above, or simply by itself.