This hybrid recipe of Korean spiced chicken (dak) and Hungarian Chicken Paprikash is a celebration of the beauteous capsicum—oven roasted chicken legs with four types of capsicums (chilies/peppers). Chicken Paprikash would typically be served with dumplings or noodles, but I had mine with tteok (Korean rice cakes) and cabbage.
Did you know that capsicums did not become part of European and Asian cuisine until the 16th century? Chilies are from Mexico and were first cultivated in Peru. They were spread through Europe and Asia by the Portuguese. Imagine Szechuan and Thai food without hot chilies. Hungarian food without paprika. Korean food without gochugaru. All these cuisines got spice from peppercorns before the Columbian Exchange brought chilies from the Americas and Caribbean to the rest of the world.
I’m often struck by how similar Korean food can be to Ashkenazi Jewish dishes I grew up with. Korean food has more complexity of flavor, and many of the fermentations like gochujang (Korean chili paste) take months to years to make. Nevertheless, we share a love for things fermented and fishy. Then there are of course the radishes, cucumbers, carrots, and cabbage. It makes more sense when you think about the ways that most of Russia, Eastern Europe, and East Asia were under Mongolian occupation and share an ancestry with migratory indigenous peoples of Central Asia. Though the political centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg face Western Europe, Russia spans all the way to East Asia. The Tea Route trade route between Siberia, Mongolia, and China created pathways for continued trade over land. Though culturally Hungary and Hungarian food seems most connected to Germanic influences, it is in many ways the most Western outpost of strong Mongolian and East Russian/East Asian influence. Hungarian itself is a super fascinating and weird language, related only to Finnish and Estonian in Europe and a variety of indigenous East Russian and Asian languages (including Korean!).
Chicken Paprikash is, next to goulash, probably the most well-known and widely eaten Hungarian foods outside of Hungary. This is an oven baked paprikash-inspired sauce enlivened by gochujang and Thai chilies—perfect for a weeknight dinner.
This dish relies on high quality paprika and gochujang for flavor. Make sure your paprika is fresh (it goes bad quickly). Many gochujangs are thickened with wheat starch and flavored with msg instead of getting umami taste from the traditional long fermentation process. I really like Jook Jang Yeon brand. It is made from rice malt syrup instead of barley, so it is gluten free.
Serves 3-6, depending on how hungry you are!
Time: 1.5 hours, plus marinade time
6 whole chicken leg quarters or 8-10 chicken thighs, bone-in skin-on
2 tbsp sweet Hungarian Paprika
1 tbsp gochugaru or hot Hungarian paprika
2-4 bird's eye chilies (or to taste. Omit if you do not like spicy foods)
1 medium red onion, cut into chunks
1 small pear, cored and cut into chunks
5 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup soy or tamari sauce
1/4 cup gochujang
1/8 cup unrefined sunflower oil (or neutral oil or peanut oil)
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
1/4 tsp ground coriander
fresh parsley and/or green onions to garnish (optional)
smetana (Russian sour cream) or creme fraiche to garnish (optional)
Rinse chicken legs to remove any odor from packing, then pat them dry. If you do not have time for a long marinade, sprinkle legs salt on both sides (amount depends on what type of salt you have. Use your best judgment and remember that the soy sauce and gochujang will be salty too). Set aside in a large casserole dish or sheet pan that fits all the meat.
Add all other ingredients besides the garnish into a food processor and process until everything is fully incorporated. Toss chicken pieces in the sauce, cover with plastic, and marinade for 4-24 hours in the fridge or 30 minutes on the counter.
Remove chicken from the fridge about 30 minutes before you plan to cook it so that it comes to room temperature. Preheat oven to 375. Cook chicken leg quarters at 375 for 50-65 minutes. The meat is done when the juices run clear. If you are using thighs only, cook for 45-50 minutes.
There will be a lot of extra marinade and chicken fat. If you want an additional sauce to serve with the chicken, remove chicken legs from the marinade and pour liquid into a saucepan. Skim off some of the fat. Cook over medium heat until the texture is similar to ketchup.
Garnish with herbs and smetana. Serve with tteok, spatzl, white rice, egg noodles, or potatoes.