Culture

Grandma's Chicken

This is a recipe (and I use that term loosely) for my grandmother’s chicken, also known as Potted Hungarian Chicken or Chicken Paprikash.

  • A Chicken
  • Some salt, pepper, garlic, and Hungarian paprika
  • 1 onion chopped up
  • Oil
  • Some Chicken broth
  • Take a cut up chicken and clean it however you normally do that. Pat dry.

    Sprinkle with salt, and pepper. Rub with some crushed garlic (I can’t eat garlic, so I leave this out and it’s fine).  If you have to ask how much, this wont work.  Then sprinkle with LOTS of  sweet Hungarian paprika.  By Hungarian sweet paprika, I don’t mean supermarket paprika that has Hungarian in the name. My Grandmother took the bus across town from Amsterdam Avenue to First Avenue to go to the Paprika Weiss market and bought it fresh from big drums and took it home in a paper bag.  The closest you can get now is probably from it’s successor, Yorkville Meat Emporium/Hungarian Meat Market, and even that’s closed due to a fire.  But I digress.

    Turn the chicken over and season the other side of the chicken pieces.

    Heat oil in a large frying pan that has a cover.  OK — here’s the thing.  To the best of my knowledge, the reason my grandmother’s chicken tastes better than anyone else’s is because she used a terrible thin old frying pan that burned everything.  I don’t have a really cheap pan (although I’m thinking of buying one on eBay or at Goodwill) so I use my oldest one. Do not use the really expensive, 38 layers of assorted metals one that some cook who wasn’t born when my Grandmother used to make this dish recommended.  I use an old warped Farberwear one I keep just to make this chicken.  If you don’t have a cheap frying pan this will be a challenging recipe for you.  But carry on, it is still possible.

    Even with the fairly thin Farberwear I use the highest heat possible, which I normally would not use to brown things.

    Add the onion and brown it a little.  Don’t wait for that to burn — it will have time to burn later.  Then add the chicken pieces. They need to all touch the bottom of the pan so smush the onions to the side, and if you have too much chicken, use two pans, but the chicken must be in one layer.  Put the chicken in skin side down and NOW you forget what you’re doing.

    Talk to your guests; have a glass of sherry; somehow you must manage to burn the chicken and the onions a little. You’re going to think it’s done, but it’s not.  Honest. There’s a point between normal browned, and charcoal where the chick is a deep deep reddish brown, maybe 330000 in HEX, and it’s past what you would normally think of as “browned chicken and onions.”  Don’t be tempted to peek too often because that breaks the bond between the cheap, but hot metal pan and the paprika which is covering the chicken.

    When you’ve achieved appropriate brownness, turn the chicken over, and while you have each piece out of the pan to turn it – scrape the burnt stuff underneath with a wooden or plastic spoon.  Now burn the other side.  Again pick up the pieces, scrap the burned stuff up, put the pieces back skin up, and add about a cup of broth — give or take.  She never measured and I don’t either.  Turn the heat to low, cover the pan and cook 30 minutes. The chicken should be very well done and come off the bone easily.

    If you must, you can skin the chicken, take the gravy that’s magically appeared in the pan and put it in the freezer to get the fat to the top quickly and de-fat the gravy. But my grandmother lived to be 92 and my mother lived to be 93. They ate this chicken once a week all their lives.  Consider that maybe chicken fat isn’t the greatest evil the world has seen.

    This chicken is best served with Kasha and if you ask nicely I’ll give that recipe also.  The chicken is terrific re-heated but eventually it just falls completely off the bone and personally I think it looses something without the bones.

    NOTE ABOUT PICTURE: Please note that this picture of grandma cooking does NOT show her making chicken. She would never cook her chicken in Le Creuset cookware. She didn’t own any Le Creuset.  This picture was taken at my parents’ summer house where my grandmother held forth every summer.  The dish in the Le Creuset is stuffed cabbage which does well without the need for burning.