Chicken Paprikash

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!

A blue earthenware dish with chicken paprikash--chicken thighs in a creamy paprika sauce, on a marble counter

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.

He blinked.

“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 bitch slapped Nicholas Cage–not once, but twice–in Moonstruck, another favorite rom-com.

“Uh, no.”

“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.

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Chicken Paprikash--chicken legs and thighs in a creamy tomato-paprika sauce

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

Chicken Paprikash

  • Quick Glance
  • (8)
  • 35 M
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • Serves 4 to 6
5/5 - 8 reviews
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Ingredients

  • For the chicken paprikash
  • To serve

Directions

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.

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    A MORE CLASSIC-ISH STOVETOP VARIATION

    • If 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.

    Recipe Testers' Reviews

    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.

    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.

    #leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

    Comments

    1. David, I love you. You are so genuine. Your writing is enchanting. I was only looking for a recipe and I found you. xo

      P.S. Totally white straight financially conservative woman…living in the Sonoran Desert…married 39 years, now widowed…but from…you guessed it–NYC ♡

      1. NYC here as well. I went to St. Stephen as a kid (Hungarian parish). The older Hungarian women would make this. It was delicious!

    2. Ah, Chicken Paprikash!

      I reckon there needs to be a shortlist of about ten dishes that any self-respecting cook ought to learn how to make, and have under his belt. You could whittle that down to a mere ten, and chicken paprikash would easily make that list.

      It is such a cinch dish, yet one that seems to intricate at the same time. Every time I make it, it turns out not to be merely a winner but one of the greats that I make. If I could only get a girl, this would be one meal I could woo her with.

      At least I can still impress my parents with it.

      1. Thanks, Mikey. You’re right. Chicken paprikash really is one of the all-time greats.

    3. This paprikash is everything you hope an Old World dish to be: homey and delicious with simple preparation and few ingredients. The chicken is moist and tender with a crisp skin and the sauce…oh, the sauce! My husband was scooping spoonfuls of it out of the pan after dinner and even my picky 8 year old asked for seconds.

      We didn’t have the suggested Hungarian noodles but grocery store spaetzle was a fine substitute.

    4. Holy cow! This is magnificent! I have made it ahead for dinner tomorrow, but the flavor of the broth is driving me wild. Cannot wait to add the sour cream and dig in. Will be serving it with homemade low-carb ricotta gnocchi.

      For paprika, I used half sweet and half hot smoked Spanish Pimenton de la Vera (available as a 2-pack from Amazon). Baking it at 350° convect for 30 minutes gave it a perfectly crispy skin. Wow, wow, wow!

    5. Much like most of that scene from When Harry Met Sally, the chicken paprikash dinners we had in our house were ad-libbed – and always delicious. When it came time to make it for my own family, my dad gave me his “recipe” and my taste memory was my guide. Almost 20 years later, the recipe I thought was perfect is now in the trash. I used split chicken breasts, shredded them, and returned to the sauce making it easier for little mouths to eat. The sauce is well balanced (do not skimp on the paprika!) and luxuriously thick to stick to all those homemade egg noodles. Who would have thunk the Portuguese guy could make a better paprikash than the Hungarian girl.

      1. Well, Susan, I’m blushing. Thanks for the kind words. You have my full permission to appropriate this as your own. No one needs knows. It will be out culinary NATO secret.

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