this recipe is a family hand-down from mr. mimi's great grandma, who came from czechoslovakia (and supposedly somehow through marriage - and maybe some tale telling - is related to the great masayrk) and brought all her amazing cooking with her.
mr. mimi's fondest memories of his great grandma is visits to her large, ornate apartment in the bronx, especially on christmas eve when she hosted the family dinner. but regardless of when the visit was, and what it is for, the minute he stepped into her home, he was greeted with the most amazing smells coming from the kitchen. she was the one who inspired him to be "chef boy rp" (rp is mr. mimi's real initials). she always had something cooking, and was famous for her chicken soup with egg drop. it was crafted from hours of labor and a heart full of love.
one of his other indelible memories is his great grandma sticking a big brown bar of soap in his mouth when "damn" came out of his precious four year-old mouth. he never said it again in front of her ;)
this recipe is in honor of his great grandma, who taught it to his mother (yes it skipped a generation; his nana was of the 'everything convenient is good' mantra of the postwar 50s), and who passed it to him. although it is less a "recipe" because there are no real exact measurements. what's written below is a close approximation of what happens without thinking about it in the kitchen. it's a cliché, i know, but it is one of those family dishes that was taught by feel and look and taste rather than teaspoons and cups and pounds.
even thought it doesn't look like much the best thing about it is the smell that is so warm and fantastic while it's braising. by the time it's finished you will think you're starving because it smells so good. this must be what mr. mimi means when he talks about his great grandma's kitchen.
and when i chose paprika for think spice this month, i knew i would make this. if you'd like to join this event, you still have a week left! for the rules, click here.
mr. mimi's chicken paprikash: serves 4
adapted from great grandma
1 whole chicken, cut into parts
1 large onion, medium diced
4 garlic cloves, sliced
2-3 bay leaves
1-2 big cans crushed tomatoes
hungarian sweet paprika
salt + pepper
1/2 cup sour cream (give or take)
1 lb large pasta shells
1. season chicken with salt and pepper, and heavily coated with paprika on both sides; rub in paprika. in heavy dutch oven, heat olive oil on medium and lay chicken skin side down carefully and sear until deep golden red, about 5 minutes. then flip over and sear on the other side for another 5 minutes. note: depending on your dutch oven size, you probably will have to do this in two batches; for the best sear, don't crowd the chicken!
this isn't the prettiest photo, but just to show you the chicken should be well coated with paprika!
2. take out chicken and place on plate. pour out oil and wipe out dutch oven if necessary. add a little fresh oil and sauté the garlic and onion until caramelized. stir in a tiny bit more paprika.
3. put chicken back in, skin side up. add bay leaves, tomatoes, salt and pepper. turn heat down to low, cover, and simmer for at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours. occasionally stir and turn chicken.
4. pull chicken out. temper the sour cream by adding a little bit of the tomato sauce to the sour cream and whisk; then add back the tempered sour cream. you will have to adjust the amount by eye, it should be similar in color to a dark pink vodka sauce. if necessary, tighten it up with some tomato paste.
5. meanwhile, bring salted water to boil and cook pasta according to directions.
6. skim off fat from tomato sauce and add back chicken. slowly bring back up to heat. add in cooked pasta and stir well so the shells get nice and coated. bon appétit from the old world!
note: if you're not in budapest or going there any time too soon, the best readily available (at least in the US) hungarian sweet paprika is from szeged.