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’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.”