Sunday, March 2, 2014

Chicken Paprika for a Crowd from Hallie Ephron

LUCY BURDETTE: Hallie Ephron is not only one of my favorite writers, she's a wonderful friend and fabulous foodie. I love to watch her in the kitchen--I know you'll enjoy this story too!
HALLIE EPHRON: I've had plenty of disasters in the kitchen. I once dropped a duck on the floor on the way to the table. And more than once I've nearly flambéed my kitchen. I've learned the hard way not to start sipping my white wine before the main course is cooked and ready to plate. But I'm particularly challenged when I'm cooking for more than 6. 

Recently I hosted a meeting at my house, cooking for 15 people. Playing it safe, I made my go-to dish for a crowd: chicken paprika.

I made a vat of it the day before. It tasted delicious. I put it in the refrigerator, and the next evening, an hour before serving, I put it in the oven. When I pulled it out, it was barely warm. Meanwhile I'd started boiling the noodles (you get where this is going?) 

So I set the pot of chicken paprika on the stove and turned on the burner... high. Fifteen minutes later the noodles are of course overcooked and the paprikash is boiling and, ominously, sticking to the bottom of the pot

"Wow," my guests proclaim as they dig in, "this has such an interesting smoky taste." I try to blame it on the "smoked paprika" which I really did use. But I know the truth. It's burned, not smoky. On top of that I made roughly enough overcooked noodles to serve 50 people.

Leftovers? There were none, because I dumped it all in the trash (when my husband wasn't looking.)

It's not the first time crowd cooking has led to disaster. "What's that nice crunch?" a friend had asked of the arroz con pollo I'd prepared for a party. Uncooked rice. 

Why is it, for someone who effortlessly turns out delicious meals for 4 or 6 guests, it's so dicey to cook for a few more?

So here's my paprika chicken recipe for 4. I dare you to double it.

Chicken Paprika (serves 4)

2 1/2 or so pounds of boneless skinless chicken thighs
2-3 T of paprika (Hungarian sweet or smoked)
1 T butter
2 T vegetable oil
1 large chopped onion
3 seeded chopped plum tomatoes (you can use canned)
2 c chicken broth
1/2 (or more!) sour cream
1 pound of quartered fresh mushrooms

1. Cut up each chicken thigh into 3 pieces (remove fat); dredge them in flour
2. Heat butter and oil until butter stops spitting; quickly sautee chicken pieces about 4 minutes each in hot fat (will take several rounds) until nicely browned. Remove from pan.
3. Toss the chopped onion into the fat remaining and sautee until just translucent; add tomatoes and paprika and cook low/medium another 2 minutes
4. Add stock and simmer 2-3 minutes until slightly thick
5. Add the chicken back in
6. Cover and simmer another 40 minutes in all -- after 20 minutes throw in the mushroom quarters, stir, cover, and continue cooking
8. With heat low, add sour cream and stir until just heated through. Season to taste.

Serve with flat egg noodles and extra sour cream.

Hallie Ephron  writes suspense novels she hopes keep readers up nights. A three-time finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark award, Hallie made a splash with “Never Tell a Lie.” In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called it “stunning” and a “deliciously creepy tale of obsession.” It was adapted for film as “And Baby Will Fall” for the Lifetime Movie Network.

Hallie’s newest suspense novel, “There Was an Old Woman,” is a story of trust and betrayal, deception and madness. In it, a young woman and a very old woman connect across generations in spite of, or perhaps because, they are not related. Washington Post book reviewer Maureen Corrigan said, “For those who love Gotham and abhor gore, ‘There Was an Old Woman’ is the perfect thriller lite.”


  1. LOL about the "disaster" meal, for which I was a guest. Perhaps it wasn't your best batch of Chicken Paprika, but bad was still good. Great recipe, great writer, wonderful friend. So glad to see you here Hallie!

  2. I love this story, Hallie. Why are disasters more likely to happen when we want to impress? Cooking for fifteen is a challenge. Your friends are lovely, though. Exclaiming over the interesting smoky flavor? LOL! My friends would have been more brutal.

    And I'm with you on the wine. People always ask why I don't have a glass of wine yet. Sometimes they even pour one for me. Nope. I need all my wits about me until the food is on the table!


  3. Great story, Hallie! The recipe looks delicious and I'll be trying it (for 4). I do feel your pain: my husband and I love to cook and we also (ahem) offer advice to younger family members. So why is it that every time we have the extended family for lunch, the smoke alarm starts blaring as soon as the first batch arrives?

    Thanks for visiting us at MLK! I look forward to reading your book too,



  4. Thanks for visiting, Hallie and sharing the story of your less than successful dinner party. I remember making some beef dish where you had to flambee the brandy. I flambeed my hair instead! Heck, I'd always wanted bangs, right? For a huge crowd I usually resort to the old standbys like a vat of chili or a huge pot of pasta! This sounds delicious, and I'm putting it on the menu for this week!

  5. Hi, Julie - Thanks. I was hoping it wasn't too terrible. You were very tactful.

  6. Krista - a trick is to mix the wine with sparkling water - gives you something to sip without getting tipsy.

  7. Ah yes, Mary Jane: the smoke alarm. AKA the dinner bell.

  8. Peg Cochran: Mmmm, flambeed hair. Particularly aromatic. :-)

  9. Ah, yes, cooking disasters. I left mushrooms in oil going on the stove when I left the house to help a neighbor's dog. The dog was fine. The ceiling in the kitchen? Ruined. The smoky smell stayed with us for at least a month. The house, luckily, survived! Ooops! Love chicken paprika! And I can't wait to read your new one. Interesting title!


    Daryl / Avery

  10. Great post, Hallie. My husband once left a dozen eggs to boil until the water was gone. He didn’t know eggs could explode. He does now. Our version of chicken paprika is closer to the one Jonathan Harker described on the way to Dracula's castle, but your addition of mushroom and tomatoes sounds delicious, and we’ll be making it soon. (Speaking of Dracula, my own personal kitchen disasters usually involve blood—my own.) Thanks for sharing, and have a great week!

    ~ Cleo