A la francaise

Poulet au paprika | The Everyday French Chef

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This dish of chicken in a creamy paprika sauce came about as a result of current events. I thought I’d like to make something Ukrainian in honor of a besieged nation, and I also wanted to add to the poultry dishes already on this site. My first idea, rather naturally, was chicken Kyiv (suprêmes de volaille à la Kyiv). But a little research showed that this dish, which by the way is quite complicated to make, is actually Russian in origin. Nyet.

Poulet au paprika / Chicken with paprika

So I did a little more research and came up with a French version of chicken paprikash, a dish served across central and eastern Europe. The chicken is sautéd with onions, paprika, seasonings and a spritz of lemon juice, then water is added and the dish is simmered to tenderness, with cream stirred in at the end. Topped with fresh herbs and served over tiny pasta or rice, it’s a simple, satisfying dish that can be made in about half an hour.

Like so many people around the world, I’ve been horrified and heartbroken by Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine, all the more so because I’m attached to both cultures in one way or another — I worked in Russia for five years as a journalist and I also have Ukrainian roots. For the last month or so I’ve dealt with my personal distress by working with the French Red Cross to help Ukrainian refugees as they arrive at Paris train stations. Last week a high school classmate asked me to write about this for his newsletter. If you’d like to see my thoughts on the situation, I posted the piece online. Click here.

My Ukrainian roots come from my father’s side of the family — Jews who emigrated to the United States in the 1890s. My father’s paternal grandmother, Sarah Bortin, always said she came from Odessa. Only much later in life did I learn that when she said she came from Odessa, she meant that the boat for America sailed from Odessa. That branch of the family actually came from a small Jewish village near Berdichev, about 120 miles west of Kyiv. My father’s maternal grandparents also came from various parts of Ukraine. It is to my father’s mother, my Grandma Anne, that I owe my familiarity with Ukrainian cuisine.

Grandma Anne was a good cook, although her imprecision with measurements drove my mother crazy. For example, her recipe for syrniki — little pancakes made with smooth cottage cheese and served with sour cream and jam — calls for ‘one half eggshell water’. I’d like to post this family recipe here one of these days, along with two more, Grandma Anne’s fabulous stuffed cabbages and her wonderful cheesecake. Meantime when thinking about today’s post I was surprised to realize that I’ve already posted two Ukrainian dishes on this site — borshch and potato pancakes.

If you’d like to make an all-Ukrainian dinner during these dark weeks, you could start with potato pancakes (often served with applesauce on the side), follow with borshch and have the chicken with paprika as the main dish. For dessert, although not strictly Ukrainian, you could serve mini cherry cheesecakes made with goat cheese.

Happy cooking.

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