Paprika is so entrenched in Hungarian food culture it is hard to believe it was only following the winter of 1875 that these chilli peppers became a resident flavouring in soups and stews – 300 years after they were first brought into the country.
Grown in the Kalocsa, Szeged and Szentes regions, they were originally known as Turkish peppers. Suddenly they were Hungarian!
A paprika drying plant was built in Kalocsa in 1880 followed in 1917 by a paprika experimental farm, where the mild sweet varieties that have made Hungarian paprika famous were bred.
Paprika grown in the Szeged region travelled the world, the climate in the floodplains of the Körös, Maros and Tisza rivers producing a brilliant red sweet pepper.
Known for its characteristic colour, a natural consequence of the ripening and drying procedure, Szegedi paprika is now a window into Hungary’s peasant paprika culture.
North of Szeged is the Szentes region. Here in the low-lying basin of the Great Hungarian Plain, migrating Bulgarian market gardeners made good use of the sloping land and hotter climate, in 1895 producing most of the Hungarian paprika harvest.
They specialised in pre-germination hotbed production, practicised nursery bed inter-cropping, developed chain-bucket wheel irrigation systems, and managed the humus-rich alluvial soil – creating the perfect microclimate for their produce.
Paprika production has been constant in Szentes ever since, the methods introduced by the Bulgarians continuing to yield ‘an exceptionally flavoursome, hot, sweet or spicy taste’.
The contrasting peppers from these regions make Hungarian paprika unique, hugely different to its Spanish and Turkish counterparts. See paprika peppers in glossary.
Paprikás Csirke – 1
2 kg chicken, cut into large pieces, leg and thigh separated 400 g onions, chopped 300 ml smetana/sour cream 150 g lecsó 2 paprika peppers, fresh 15 g sunflower oil 15 g flour 10 g sweet paprika Salt, pinch Water, for deglazing
Warm oil in a deep, wide saucepan, sauté onions for ten minutes until soft, cover and cook for an hour over the lowest heat.
Lift the lid every 15 minutes and allow the condensation to pour back into the pan.
When the onions are browned and wilted they are ready.
Bring heat up to medium, add a little more oil if the onions are sticking to the pan.
Add chicken pieces, skin side down, brown for five minutes. Remove into a wide soup bowl. Take pan off heat.
Sprinkle paprika on top of the onions, leave covered for five minutes.
Deglaze saucepan with sufficient water to cover the base.
Put chicken back with any juices in the bowl, add lecsó and peppers, cover and cook for an hour.
Add a pinch of salt.
Remove chicken pieces again, quickly reduce liquid to a paste.
Turn heat to low, stir flour into the paste and slowly add sour cream.
Turn heat up until gentle bubbles appear on the surface. Put chicken back, cover and heat gently in the creamy sauce, about five minutes.
Serve with galuska.
Paprikás Csirke – 2
This is the generic version of the Balkans.
2 kg chicken, cut into large pieces 300 g onions 250 ml chicken stock 250 ml cream (optional) 4 tomatoes, chopped 2 paprika peppers, chopped 30 ml olive oil 6 cloves garlic, chopped 15 g butter 15 g flour 15 g hot paprika 15 g parsley, chopped 15 g sweet paprika 15 g smoked paprika
Salt chicken pieces, heat butter and oil in a large frying pan, brown in batches, about three minutes. Set chicken aside.
Add a little more oil to the pan and sauté onions for five minutes, add garlic, turn heat down, then add the three paprika powders and flour, stirring constantly for two minutes.
Pour in chicken stock and bring to a low boil.
When the sauce has thickened, about five minutes, return chicken to the pan, cover, reduce heat and simmer for five minutes.
Add peppers and tomatoes, simmer for an hour.
Cream is optional. If using add now with parsley.
Serve with creamed potatoes.
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