Chicken paprikash is such an Old World staple and beloved American favorite from the 1960’s that we just had to bring it back. Chicken thighs are seared and then cooked in a tomato-onion sauce. Just before serving, sour cream is stirred in. Major comfort food. And keto, too!
One night recently when I was home alone in Connecticut, I watched When Harry Met Sally, one of my all-time favorite rom-coms, for the six billionth time. There are so many scenes I love. The “I’m going to be 40” scene. The wagon-wheel coffee table scene. And the talking funny scene in the Metropolitan Museum in which Billy Crystal’s Harry decides he and Meg Ryan’s Sally should talk like an old, crotchety couple with vaguely Eastern European accents. “Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash,” he encourages her to repeat. I howled, as always.
And then it dawned on me. I’ve never had chicken paprikash. I didn’t even know what chicken paprikash was. I had a general idea that it was Hungarian, involved chicken and, perhaps, paprika. But that’s where I got off the train.
Feeling a bit weepy and romantic–Oh, come on, you’d have to be a walking, empty-eyed corpse with a blackhole for a soul not to feel something watching the movie!–I decided to try my hand at chicken paprikash. After all, what better way to kick off The One’s and my month-long 25th anniversary celebration than to make a dish that a.) I’d never tasted, b.) knew nothing about, and c.) was inextricably bound up with my idea of romance?
What could go wrong?
While The One was in New York that week, I created several versions before settling on this one. It’s easy, packed with flavor, and calls for only chicken legs and thighs because, well, The One is definitely not a breast man–in more ways than one.
The night of our dinner, he set the mood by lighting candles, pouring wine, and putting on the local NPR station that plays standards on Saturdays. I brought the casserole dish and a bowl of noodles to the table. All was going well. It was going so well, in fact, that I was sure we wouldn’t make it to dessert. Feeling so connected to him on this, the kick-off to our 30-day Tour of Amour, I reminded him of the movie and the sparkling banter between Harry and Sally, the celluloid parents of our menu.
“You do know what I’m talking about, right?” I asked.
“No,” he replied.
It was my time to blink, gobsmacked.
“You have seen When Harry Met Sally?”
“Of course,” he said. “Everyone has.”
“Exactly. And everyone remembers the ‘waiter, there’s too much pepper on my paprikash’ scene,” I said, mimicking Billy Crystal. I was convinced that if I acted it out, complete with a grumpy-man accent, I’d snap his neurons out of their torpor. Not unlike how Cher slapped Nicholas Cage–not once, but twice–in Moonstruck, another favorite rom-com.
“So this meal has no emotional resonance for you? ” I asked. “You see no clever, witty leitmotif on modern romance?
“What are you talking about? It’s just a chicken dinner.”
“Oh–you did not just say that!” I blurted, wounded to my core. I should note that The One has this annoying habit of laughing when I’m in the throes of an indignant tantrum, which only increases my umbrage.
“Well, it may be just ‘chicken’ to you, but I figured it would turn into dinner and a floor show, as we recited the lines to each other,” I said, crestfallen. “And then I’d get all pretend weepy, and you’d assure me I had a long way to go before I turned 40–“
“But, David, you’re 59.”
“See! If you had remembered the movie, you would have known why that would have been hilarious. And for the record, I’m 58.”
Due to the impressive strides I’m making in therapy, which I call Lady Edith’s School for Young Men of Impeccable Character, I deigned to overlook The One’s appalling lack of homosexual pop-culture knowledge (sometimes I wonder if he’s even gay). Instead I did that ghastly thing mature people are supposed to do: Let him be him. I decided to accept the fact that he prefers to see movies only once; is happy not to open a gift the moment I give it to him, even if it’s days before his birthday or our anniversary; has the worst gaydar in all of Gaydom, and, most offending of all–doesn’t see the need to get hitched. “We’re about as married as a married couple can be,” is his standard reply. So there goes the big, expensive, over-the-top ceremony and The New York Times wedding notice. A boy can dream, can’t he?
But one thing is absolutely non-negotiable: During October, our celebration month, we are going to sit in front of the TV watching When Harry Met Sally and eating chicken paprikash. And when it’s time to talk like two old cranky Jewish men, I’m going to pause the movie and make his repeat after me, “Waiter, there is too much pepper on my paprikash.” Sometimes, you got to get the romance any way you can.
When Harry Met Sally Chicken Paprikash
I find it easier in the cooler months to use canned tomatoes. But if you’re so inclined to use fresh tomatoes, cook them down a bit more to release some of the liquid and use less water.–David Leite
For the chicken paprikash
- 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs and/or drumsticks
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 medium (14 oz) yellow onions chopped
- 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 3 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
- 3/4 pound tomatoes cored, seeded, and chopped, or 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 to 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup sour cream
- 3/4 pound egg noodles cooked and buttered (for an authentic touch use nokedli, which are Hungarian dumplings quite a lot like spatzle)
- Chopped parsley optional
- Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and generously season it on all sides with salt and pepper.
- In an ovenproof skillet large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the chicken, skin-side down, and cook until deeply golden brown and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. (Don’t skimp on this step.) Flip and sear until the chicken is golden brown but not cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes more. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
- Pour off all but 1 tablespoon or so of the fat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the onions. Cook, stirring often to scrape up any stuck-on bits from the pan, until the onions are softened and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.
- Reduce the heat to low, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in the skillet, and sprinkle in the paprika. Cook, stirring constantly for 30 to 45 seconds but no longer or the paprika could turn bitter.
- Add the tomatoes and the 1/2 cup (120 ml) water to the skillet and stir to combine. If a thinner sauce is desired, stir in some or all of the remaining water. Season with salt and pepper.
- Nestle the chicken in the sauce, skin-side up, so the skin doesn’t get soggy. Slide the skillet into the oven and braise until the chicken is cooked through and wiggles easily from the bone, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Transfer the chicken to a plate. Stir the sour cream into the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Pour the sauce over the cooked noodles and top with the chicken and parsley, if using.
A More Classic-Ish Stovetop VariationIf you’d prefer to make this dish entirely on the stovetop, or if your oven is otherwise occupied, you can follow the recipe directions using a Dutch oven and cook it a gentle simmer over low heat. No need to remove the chicken from the pot when adding the sour cream–just stir it right in. The resulting paprikash will be every bit as delicious as the original, however, you won’t benefit from non-flabby skin on your chicken.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I am always looking for new ways to use chicken for dinner. I haven’t made paprikash in years, but I thought this was a very good, very rich version. If you use a large ovenproof skillet, it can be a one-pan meal (except for the serving plate, as you have to take the cooked chicken out to finish the sauce with sour cream). I would highly recommend using an uncovered skillet so that the crisp skin you just made in the first step doesn’t get flabby. Perfect for guests, but not too much work.
All in all, I loved it. Thought it had a bit of retro flair and the red color was great (no white tablecloths unless you want to never have it be white again). Reminded me of stroganoff; thought there should be devils on horseback or rumaki nearby while Betty served this to Don and his clients after a couple of martinis.
On a beautiful evening that was a cool and welcome reprieve from brutal summer heat, this dish served up a preview of heavier autumn fare. I miscalculated the timing and we ate rather late, but this braise–served after a course of creamy root vegetable soup made by a friend–hit the spot.
I used sweet paprika from a local spice shop, where their products are very fresh. Its deep and distinctive aroma (not to mention its rust color reminiscent of leaves turning in the fall!) adds something extra special to the dish. Since the spice is a featured player in this classic, it really pays to use the good stuff.
Buttered noodles are one of my favorite side dishes, and I like them with parsley, so I added parsley to them as well as sprinkling it over the chicken at the end.
Great meal, but I’ll start earlier next time.
When I saw this recipe, I was excited because I couldn’t even remember when I last had this. And it didn’t disappoint! It tasted like classic chicken paprikash. I used a Dutch oven and then cooked it on the stove, which took a similar amount of time. If you’re craving a classic take, this recipe is for you.
This chicken paprikash was a surprisingly simple recipe that works well on a weeknight, this was also a good introduction to a dish I had assumed was much more mysterious. I used a mix of thighs and drumsticks, so the browning in two stages worked well with the slightly quicker drumstick time (plus I could rotate them to brown all sides). I had a fresh tin of Szeged Hungarian Sweet Paprika on hand, so I made this and we tried it with eggy noodles the first night, and then I tried my hand at making spatzle, and lastly: a final meal with a curly edged pasta that nicely grabbed the sauce and I added some sauteed pimenton and red pepper (the recipe would nicely serve 6 but we were two).
Of course the first night the skin was nice and crisp, which was worth cooking this in a skillet versus a Dutch oven. In reheating, the skin was not crisp, but the flavor was good and you want to be very gentle in reheating the sauce since the sour cream has already been mixed in.
Now I am curious about other Hungarian paprikas, as I mostly have been cooking with Spanish paprika. This was a great way to renew my appreciation of this most familiar pantry item.
This is classic comfort food, ready in just over an hour! The crisp chicken skin and luxuriant sauce create a very satisfying combination.
Our family are fans of bone in chicken breast, so I used 3 and was able to fit in a single layer in a 10 inch Dutch oven. They were done in the time mentioned, but I did keep an eye on the thermometer, as breasts can dry out quickly if overdone. We had them with the parsley and buttered noodles, with the addition of some peas added to the pasta water. Delicious meal!
I really enjoyed how this recipe flowed. I chopped the onions while the chicken browned, and made the spätzle while it was in the oven. And I don’t know about your butcher, but mine is an angel sent from heaven. After trimming the thighs, I had 6 lovely pieces of excess skin for cracklings. Overall, this dish had a lovely depth of flavor that belied the ease of preparation. The chicken was perfectly cooked and moist, with a crisp delectable skin. And the sauce, prepared with bright, fresh paprika, was so delicious people were eating it with a spoon.
This chicken paprikash an easy, simple-to-put-together recipe that really lets paprika shine and allows you to truly appreciate this spice. With so few ingredients needed and the majority of them pantry items, this dish can be made almost at any time and a great option for when you are having trouble coming up with something to cook. As noted in the recipe, it is critical to make sure the paprika is fresh as it is the star of the dish. It’s worth taking the time to brown the chicken and get that crisp skin as well as build flavor for the sauce. Lastly, the sour cream at the end really rounds out the sauce, providing some brightness as well as creaminess. I would recommend this dish to anyone who is unfamiliar with paprika as a great introduction to this spice.
Originally published October 13, 2018
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
We really liked this dish. The chicken was very tender and the tasty sauce coated the noodles nicely. I can’t say that the chicken was crisp even though I made sure it wasn’t submerged in the tomato mixture. If crispness is important, a quick minute or two under the broiler would work.
I made half this recipe. I used my 12-inch cast iron skillet and was able to brown 5 chicken thighs at the same time. I also used the same pan to bake the dish in the oven.
We tend to like things a bit spicier, so in the future I might use some half sharp paprika or maybe a small amount of smoked paprika. We each ate two thighs, so I am looking forward to the other thigh for lunch tomorrow!
I thought the sauce was a little too watery (perhaps because I used fresh tomatoes?), so I removed the chicken and reduced the sauce for about 5 minutes before stirring in the sour cream. Served over egg noodles garnished with parsley.