A hearty recipe for Hungarian paprikash and langos
Katalin Varga was just six when she started cooking by her father’s side in their village near the Ukraine border with Hungary.
“Every Sunday in my village you’d have to have soup, then chicken paprikash with nokedli, then cake,” Kathy says. “And my father was a very good cook and because I was Father’s Girl, I always was next to him and this is how I learned. I just started cooking too… I used to do the cakes and was first a baker.”
Her father was “the best cook in the village”, so Kathy was lucky to learn from a great. The chicken paprikash she learned at her father’s side is a dish she still cooks at Corner 75, the Randwick restaurant run by her brother Paul Varga.
Paul emigrated to Australia in 1988 and Kathy in 1999. Eleven years ago Paul and his wife took over at Corner 75 and Kathy came on to run the kitchen. At that time, Corner 75 had already been running for 11 years by their friend Csaba Cserfalvi. In 22 years this authentic ode to Hungarian food has only ever had two owners.
Back in the eighties, it was mainly fellow Hungarians who frequented the restaurant, but these days its loyal customers from all walks of life. Paul – who says he was “born to be a host” – puts this down to the welcoming old-world European ambiance and, of course, the quality of the food that comes out of Kathy’s kitchen.
“There are lots of Hungarians all over the world, especially in Europe and they are all into gastronomy, so chicken paprikash can be made differently in Budapest or in the countryside of Austria,” Paul explains. “It can be taken in different directions.”
“Every Sunday in my village you’d have to have soup, then chicken paprikash with nokedli, then cake,” Kathy says.
Kathy’s version of paprikash is true to her father’s recipe, so it’s influenced by Ukrainian and Slovakian flavors, which seeped over the border to their small village. Paul tells the story of how Westfield owner Frank Lowry, whose family was from Slovakia, tasted Cathy’s paprikash and said, “That’s exactly like my grandmother makes it.”
Everyone knows that any recipe that reminds them of their grandmother is an exceptional dish. Kathy says that in order to cook her paprikash you “have to have a heart” and also “cook with your touch”. In fact, she’s not entirely sure of the exact measurements that make up her recipes, she goes by feel first and tastes later.
“You have to keep tasting your dish and adjusting the flavors,” she advises. “A little of this, a little extra of that. Every day is different, so you need to taste it. It’s never every day the same.”
Everyone knows that any recipe that reminds them of their grandmother is an exceptional dish.
At the restaurant, Kathy always makes traditional nokedli to serve with the paprikash, but she confesses that at home she takes the easy route. “Usually at home, I’m sick of the making, so I just use macaroni,” she laughs. “Or mashed potato, whatever.”
Lángos is usually eaten as a snack, but it also makes a great scoop for mopping every drop of paprikash sauce. When she’s making her lángos, Kathy uses her touch to determine whether the dough is the right consistency.
“I work it up with my hands,” she explains. “If I feel it’s too soft, I add more plain flour until your hands don’t stick to the dough or the container you’re using. It’s a loose dough, but not sticky.”
Paul adds that the side dishes that accompany Hungarian food are just as important as the main dish itself. The side dishes balance the flavor of the main and he recommends serving a fresh cucumber salad with paprikash.
“It’s more complex than people think, if you choose the wrong side dish, it can destroy the whole thing.”
In all, Paul feels that family recipes like paprikash and lángos are part of the fabric of his being.
“I’ve lived in Australia almost 40 years, and I still need this kind of ingredients to feel good during the day,” he says. “Even if I like, say, a Caesar salad, I still need [Hungarian food] for my daily survival! It’s home to me.”
Serves at least 6
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 onions, diced
- 2 red tomatoes, diced
- 2 red capsicum, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1½ tbsp paprika
- 1 kg chicken thighs (on the bone)
- 1-liter chicken stock, enough to cover
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 3 tbsp sour cream
Heat oil to low-moderate heat and then fry the onion, tomato, capsicum, and garlic for about 20 minutes until fragrant and caramelized.
Increase heat, then adds the chicken thighs and fry for around 10 mins until browned. Pour the chicken stock over until the chicken is just covered.
Simmer over low heat for around 50 minutes. At the 30-minute mark, taste the dish and season with salt and black pepper to taste.
15 minutes before serving, mix flour and sour cream with a little water and add to the sauce. Cook for a further 15 minutes then serve with homemade nokedli or macaroni.
Makes about 20 pieces
“I don’t really measure the ingredients when I make lángos,” confesses Cathy.
Here’s an approximation of her recipe.
- 2 kg plain flour
- Handful of salt
- 50 ml sugar
- 2 tbsp fresh yeast (18 g) or 7 g instant dry yeast
- 1-liter milk, warm
- Oil for deep frying
- 2 tbsp of crushed garlic
Put all the ingredients (hold back a little of the flour) into a large bowl and work together with your hands. Work the dough for at least five minutes. Add the rest of the flour if the dough seems too sticky. This is a very soft dough, but it shouldn’t stick to the bowl.
Once the dough has come together, cover with a tea towel and place in a warm spot until the dough proves. This will take around six hours in winter or three in summer.
When you’re ready to cook, drop large spoons of the dough into hot oil and fry each side for about a minute until golden brown.
Top each bread with a little crushed garlic. You can also add sour cream or grated cheese or both. Serve warm.