“Of course, you also need to add some sweet paprika.”
“As much as it needs.”
An instruction frequently repeated to me whenever I ask my mother how she makes any of a number of different types of stews found across the Balkan region. There is one particular stew where it does not matter in the slightest if you are overzealous with your sweet paprika application. In fact, overzealousness is encouraged.
You may think we have been transported to Hungary, and you’d be right, of course. But paprikash, in various forms is also incredibly popular across the Balkans, and particularly associated with Vojvodina, an autonomous province in northern Serbia (as it was in Yugoslavia also). Vojvodina lies on the southeastern Pannonian plain and is so incredibly fertile it was known as the “bread basket” of Yugoslavia. It also, coincidentally borders Hungary. Which brings me back to this paprikash.
This version of chicken paprikash is broadly typical of the region, but I love to add roasted red peppers to amplify the sweet red warmth of this comforting stew and I love using chicken pieces on the bone plus homemade stock. Obviously for speed, feel free to use any chicken cuts you like and any good commercially available stock. You can leave out the pancetta entirely and replace it with a pinch of smoked sweet paprika if you like a little smoky undertone.
This is generally accompanied by “noklice” (egg and flour dumplings) cooked with it, but works beautifully with potatoes, pasta or rice.
2 sweet red peppers
500g chicken pieces of your choice
3 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
2 medium white onions, sliced in half moons
50g smoked pancetta or bacon, diced (optional)
2 tbsp sweet paprika
1 tbsp flour (optional)
1 tomato, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato puree (or 100 ml tomato passata or tomato juice)
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
Salt + black pepper, to taste
Fresh parsley, chopped, to serve
Sour cream, crème fraiche or Greek yoghurt, to serve
- Preheat your oven to 200C / 180C (Fan) / 400F (or as hot as your oven will go) then roast the red peppers. Place them in a bag/lidded container, allow to cool then peel, de-seed and slice them.
- To prepare your chicken, there are two options. You can either roast your chicken pieces or seal them by frying them.
If you are using chicken pieces on the bone and with skin, and you prefer not to fry chicken, place the chicken pieces on a baking sheet, drizzle 1 tbsp of the oil over them and season with salt. Roast until the skin is nicely crispy. You do not need to make sure the chicken is cooked through as it will cook again together with the rest of the ingredients. Save any roasting juices from the chicken to add into the paprikash.
If you prefer to fry the chicken pieces or are using boneless chicken pieces, heat 1 tbsp of the oil in an oven proof/casserole dish over a medium heat. Season your chicken pieces with salt and cook them to seal/brown the meat and, if using skin on chicken pieces, to render some of the fat off and crisp the skin. Remove the chicken and set aside. You can pour out the chicken fat and deglaze the frying pan with a little water if you’d like and pour the juices into the paprikash.
- Reduce your oven temperature to 170C / 150C (Fan) / 340F.
- In an ovenproof casserole dish (ideally with a lid), add the rest of the oil and on a medium heat, sweat the onions until soft and translucent.
If using, add the smoked pancetta and cook until nicely coloured, taking care not to burn the onions.
Add the sweet paprika and flour to the onions and pancetta and cook for a minute (be careful not to burn the paprika). Add the tomato and tomato puree (or tomato passata or juice) and stir to combine. Add the stock, stir to remove any lumps, and bring to the boil.
- Then add the sliced roasted red peppers and stir to combine.
Add the chicken pieces and any juices. If you need to, add a little more water to just cover the chicken. Transfer your casserole dish (lid on) to the oven and cook for at 1-2 hours until the chicken is nicely coloured and cooked through and the sauce has thickened. The longer and slower you can cook it, the better. Check and top up with water during cooking if needed. When you are happy with the thickness of the sauce, check and adjust your seasoning.
- Finally just before serving add a generous handful of chopped fresh parsley, and swirl through some sour cream / crème fraiche or Greek yoghurt.