Morbid Meals – Paprika Hendl with Mamaliga from Stoker’s DRACULA

EXAMINATION
My favorite vampire novel ever, hands down without question, is Bram Stoker’s immortal DRACULA.

This Victorian era novel may not be as thrilling as modern stories, but it is a snapshot of its era. Furthermore, part of the brilliance of the novel is the epistolary nature of its telling. For those not familiar with that term, that means it is told in the form of letters, diary and journal entries, telegrams, newspaper clippings, etc. This adds to the feeling of realness not only of the characters but their situation. You are there, glimpsing the past lives of these folks.

As part of his journals, the protagonist, Jonathan Harker, wrote about his trip through Europe, and he noted the meals that he ate along the way.

“I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem., get recipe for Mina.) I asked the waiter, and he said it was called ‘paprika hendl,’ and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians.”

It is from my tattered copy of Leonard Wolf’s excellent The Annotated DRACULA that I long ago found a traditional recipe for paprika hendl (also known by the name chicken paprikash), which itself comes from The Art of Viennese Cooking by Marcia Colman Morton.

Paprika Hendl
1 young fowl, about 4 pounds
2 tablespoons fat
2 large onions, chopped
2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika
1/2 cup of tomato juice
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup sour cream

Later in his journey, he has a breakfast of mămăligă (which is essentially a baked polenta). Here is a traditional recipe.

Mămăligă
3 cups water
salt
1 cup corn meal
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup sour cream
4 slices of feta cheese (or other sharp cheese)

These two dishes, paprika hendl and mămăligă, have become a staple in my home after I discovered these recipes.  Though they were not eaten together in the story, my family loves to eat the chicken on a bed of polenta, so that has become our tradition. Below I share with you how we prepare the dishes together for one meal.

ANALYSIS
Serves: 5-6 people

Ingredients
Paprika Hendl
1 (5 to 6 pound) whole chicken, cut into pieces
3 Tbsp olive oil
salt and paprika to taste
1 cup chopped onion (about half an onion)
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup red wine (or white, if you prefer)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup sour cream

Chicken broth
Chicken scraps from above
3 oz carrots, cubed
3 oz celery, cubed
3 oz onion, chopped
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Mămăligă
2 cups chicken broth
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup corn meal
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
4 slices of feta cheese (or other sharp cheese)

Method
To prepare the chicken

  1. If you bought a whole chicken, cut into manageable pieces.
  2. You can keep the bones in the drumsticks, thighs, and wings, if you like, but do separate the breast meat from the rib bones.
  3. Remove as much of the skin as you can. Set the chicken pieces aside. Save all of the scraps for the chicken broth.

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Making the chicken broth

  1. Into a 7-quart pressure cooker, place the chicken bones, excess fat and skin, giblets, gizzards, small bits of the wings that frustrate people to eat, etc.
  2. Chop the veggies and add them to the pressure cooker, along with the salt, peppercorns, and bay leaf.
  3. Pour in enough water to cover everything completely, but make sure NOT to go above the “maximum fill” line.
  4. Cover with the lid and lock it down. On the stove top, turn the heat to high and bring up to pressure.
  5. When you hear the pressure release whistle, reduce the heat to low, for a steady low hiss. Cook for 40 minutes.
  6. Release the pressure and open the cooker carefully.
  7. Strain the broth into a container. You’ll need 2 1/2 cups total for the recipes here. Save the rest for later use. This will keep in the freezer for up to six months.
  8. Discard the solid bits — they have given their all.
  9. Can you make broth without a pressure cooker? Sure, but it will need to simmer for at least two hours.

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Making the paprika hendl

  1. Place a 5 quart dutch oven onto a stove top burner at medium-high heat. Add olive oil and chicken. Season chicken lightly with salt and paprika to taste.
  2. Brown the chicken on all sides. Remove chicken and set aside.
  3. Add the chopped onion to the dutch oven. Cook until tender and translucent, but not browned.
  4. Stir in sweet and smoked paprika, wine, and broth. Mix well.
  5. Return chicken to the dutch oven, coating all the pieces with the sauce. Bring up to a boil for about a minute.
  6. Reduce the heat, cover the dutch oven, and let it simmer for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked at 165 F (74 C) degrees.
  7. (This is the perfect time to make the mamaliga or another side dish of your choice. The instructions for mamaliga are below.)
  8. Remove the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm.
  9. Boil the sauce until reduced, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the sour cream and mix well. (I like to use a stick blender at this point; just be VERY careful, the sauce is extremely hot.)
  10. Serve chicken on a bed of mamaliga (or rice, pasta, potatoes, or whatever you like), and serve the sauce in a gravy boat or just pour over the chicken.

 

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Making the mămăligă

  1. In a 3-quart saucepan, bring chicken broth and salt to a boil.
  2. Wisk in the corn meal slowly in a steady stream. Add the milk. Cook over medium-high heat, continuing to whisk.
  3. When the mixture starts to bubble, turn down the heat to low, and cover the saucepan.
  4. For about 30 minutes you will need to stir the polenta at 5 minute intervals. A long-handled wooden spoon works best. The goal here is to keep the polenta from clumping and burning on the bottom of the saucepan.
  5. After the 30 minutes of slow stirring, remove from heat.
  6. Grease up a casserole dish. Preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C) degrees.
  7. Pour the polenta into the casserole, spread the sour cream on top, and then cover with cheese.
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

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DISSECTION
Of course you *could* buy your chicken pre-cut into whatever pieces you like, but this is Morbid Meals! One of the things I want to advocate with these recipes is nose-to-tailslow food cooking. Step away from the boneless/skinless/FLAVORless chicken and canned broth. It doesn’t take long to cut up a whole chicken yourself.

Plus, then you can make your own chicken broth from the chicken bones and scraps. (Especially if you have a pressure cooker, there’s no reason not to make your own broth.) Besides, you can save a fair amount of money buying a 5 – 6 pound whole roasting chicken, or for a smaller family, a 4 pound “young” chicken.

When it comes to seasoning your chicken when you brown it, go with whatever you like. You can do just salt and pepper, or as I like, smoked paprika. In addition to that, my special secret ingredient for cooking chicken is Old Bay Seasoning. Trust me, it’s not just for seafood boils. It perks up the chicken broth, too.

Regarding the mamaliga, we usually do not bake with the sour cream and cheese as it is done traditionally. In that case, it really is pretty much a simple polenta, which is done at step 5. For special occasions, though, we bake it for the traditional mămăligă.

POST-MORTEM
We enjoy paprika hendl so much, my wife and I prepared 100 pounds of it for a medieval feast put on by our local College in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Furthermore, even with my dietary restrictions, I can still make this meal and enjoy quite a feast. With a whole chicken really being the only “expensive” part of this meal, it is one that you can enjoy often, as we certainly do.

I may never get to travel through the Carpathians and partake of the local cuisine. Yet with these recipes, I do feel like I am recreating some of that culinary adventure, and that connects me to the folklore that inspired Bram Stoker.

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