Monday, December 02, 2013

Prairie Kitchens - Chicken Paprika

The curious thing about pioneer food is the sheer diversity of recipes despite a short list of ingredients. Basic groceries included flour, sugar, baking powder, oats, raisins, a few spices, coffee or tea. Most everything else was grown, raised or picked on or near the farm.

Yet in the hands of skilled cooks, with their own ethnic flare, these simple ingredients were turned into the unique flavours of the Old Country. Take for instance, Hungarian cuisine. Spice it with paprika, throw in some poppy seeds, thicken with sour cream, add some dumplings, and you've got dishes to warm the heart of every ethnic Hungarian.

In 1886, thirty-five families arrived at Esterhazy Colony, most of them Hungarians already living in the United States, enticed by immigration agent Count Paul Esterhazy (that wasn't his real name and he wasn't a real count). It would become the largest Hungarian settlement in Canada.

In 1902, the "Count" was hired by the Canadian government to produce a 67-page brochure full of glorious descriptions, prosperous-looking photos and glowing testimonies from farmers already there. On the subject of winter: "peculiarly healthful, elastic, bracing atmosphere." Of summer: "warmed and lighted by an Italian sun."

Perhaps inspired by that pamphlet, the Chomos, Shivak and Herperger families came as a group to Saskatchewan from Hungary in 1906. Their descendant Jerome Chomos of Saskatoon recalls the creamy one-pot stews, poppy seed strudel, homemade noodles and palascinta crepes of his grandma, dishes still lovingly cooked in Esterhazy by his 93-year-old mother Alice.

Chicken Paprika
1 whole chicken, cut up
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
3 tsp Hungarian paprika
1 tbsp each vegetable oil and butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup sour cream

Pat the chicken dry with paper towel. Place 1/4 cup flour, salt and half the paprika in a plastic bag. Shake chicken in the flour so each piece is lightly coated. In a large skillet, heat the oil and butter on high. Cook the chicken, turning once until browned on both sides. Remove chicken to a plate. You may need to do this in two batches; use more oil-butter if needed.

Wipe most of the remaining fat from the pan. Reduce heat to medium. Cook the onions and garlic until soft. Sprinkle with remaining paprika and stir well. Add the chicken stock. Bring to a bubble, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.

Return chicken pieces to the pan. Cover. Simmer on low until the chicken is cooked, about one hour, turning chicken once. Stir the remaining flour into the sour cream. Gradually stir into the sauce, spooning over the chicken. Warm through. Serve with spatzle noodles.

Spatzle (Drop Noodles)
This recipe is from The Hungarian Cookbook, Culinary Arts Institute of Chicago, 1973

2 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup water
1/4 cup melted butter

Sift together flour and salt. In another bowl, mix the egg and water. Gradually add flour to the egg mixture, stirring until smooth. Batter should be very thick and break from a spoon instead of pouring in a continuous stream.

Boil a pot of salted water. Spoon batter into the boiling water by 1/2 teaspoonfuls, dipping spoon into water to prevent sticking. Cook one layer of noodles at a time; do not crowd. After noodles rise to the surface, boil another 5 minutes. Remove from water with a slotted spoon. As they are cooked, put the spatzle into a bowl and toss with melted butter.

If you plan to make spatzle often, you might with to invest in a spatzle maker:

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(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)

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