Visiting an old friend in Budapest many years ago was a great pleasure on many levels, but the food and wine were clear highlights. If you ever find yourself in this fascinating city, you really must visit the magnificently restored Central Market Hall for an insight into what the Hungarians love! Cornucopia is a word that comes to mind, with more paprika than you can shake a goulash at and in every form known to humankind: mounds of fresh, glistening peppers of every hue and swags of dried ones like tribal garlands; goose and duck in all sorts of styles (some not as PC as others); butchers and delicatessens with strings of magnificent sausages and hanging salamis; caviar, beautiful breads, cakes and strudels; jar upon jar of pickles, preserves and jams; ready-made meals, and I'll stop there before I drown in drool. Wonderful. The wines, too, were a revelation (this was 2005), and they've been getting better and better ever since. I ate and drank with great gusto while there.
One dish I didn't sample in Budapest, but which I've meant to have a crack at was chicken paprikash, and when I heard that we would soon be featuring some wines from Hungary (and Austria) in an upcoming communication I knew I had the perfect excuse to give it a go. I've always loved goulash and stroganoff, both of which use plenty of Hungary's delicious sweet paprika, so I figured we'd enjoy this, and by golly we did. This is my version, and it's as easy as you like, but you can mess about with it as much as you like. It is easily varied. Use whatever cut of chicken you fancy (or turkey or even pork), raise or reduce the amount of paprika and swap out the smoked or hot as you prefer, change the colour of the peppers, and generally play with the recipe to suit you. As long as the chicken is cooked through in the sauce you will be, as they say, laughing.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 chicken breasts or 6 chicken thighs (bone-in is best for the thighs but not vital). Whether you have the skin on or not is personal preference
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
- 1 bell pepper, deseeded and diced or cut into strips (I prefer red pepper, but I understand that green is more traditional)
- 1 tbsp sweet paprika
- 2 tsp hot smoked paprika (use 1 tsp of cayenne as an alternative)
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 400g tin chopped tomatoes
- 300ml chicken stock
- 150ml soured cream
- Salt and pepper
- A little chopped parsley for decoration
Add the olive oil to a sauté pan or deep frying pan on a medium heat. Season the chicken breasts or thighs with the salt and pepper and add them to the hot pan, skin-side down if you are using skin-on chicken. Fry until they are golden brown on both sides,then remove from the pan and set aside.
Add the onions and peppers to the pan and gently fry for 10 minutes, then add the garlic and fry for a minute or two more.
Stir in the sweet and hot paprika and the flour. Cook for three or four minutes, stirring all the time to cook out the flour and coat the onions and peppers.
Stir in the tinned tomatoes and chicken stock, simmer for another ten minutes, stirring all the time to amalgamate sauce and flour and spice mixture, then return the chicken to the pan. Simmer gently for 20-25 minutes or so, or until the chicken is cooked through. Much will depend on the size and thickness of the chicken pieces you have selected.
Add the sour cream and stir until it is amalgamated and has heated through. If you used chicken breasts, chop into appropriate sizes, then serve, sprinkled with parsley.
I like to serve it with flat noodles like tagliatelle or fettucine tossed in melted butter and chopped parsley, though the Hungarians often eat it with dumplings. Plain rice is also a very good foil to the spicy, smoky sauce, but a hunk of crusty bread is lovely too, because there is plenty of sauce to mop up.
This is a dish that works with both red and white wines and you need look no further than the region it originates in for something to pair pleasingly with it. The 2021 January Fine wine List has some real Hungarian treats to try from Péter Wetzer's organically farmed vineyards around the town of Sopron. His Kékfrankos, Péter Wetzer 2017 is all pure, fresh red fruits perfect to cut the sour cream, tomato and spices, while his Blumenthal Kékfrankos 2017 offers more weight and inherent spice to work with the smoky paprika and sweet peppers.
The easy-going, ripe red berries and bramble of the Pinot Noir, Ostoros 2018 will do nicely too. From across the border in Austria try the charming red fruit and gentle spice of The Society's Blaufränkisch 2018, or the juicy sweet fruit of the Familie Mantler Zweigelt 2018 or 2019.
If white is more your thing, the Dry Tokaji Furmint Tokaj Nobilis 2019 is dry but rich, with wonderful acidity to slice through the sour cream and tomato sauce without getting lost amid the paprika. The Society's Grüner Veltliner 2019 is packed with ripe fruit with a touch of white pepper and will refresh the palate, and the more intense and more opulent The Society's Exhibition Grüner Veltliner 2019 will, in weight terms, stand a little more toe-to-toe with the dish.