Last week I visited with my friend, Michael Berkowits, a retired chef and Holocaust survivor living here in Southern California. I first met Michael last year through my friend and fellow food writer Jackie Dodd, who blogs at DomesticFits.com and TheBeeroness.com. At that time, she ran a social work program for local seniors (she has since gone on to write a fabulous cookbook!). Ever since Jackie introduced us, Michael and I have stayed in touch. When we first met, he shared his incredible life story with me, which I wrote about in this post: Michael Berkowits’ Tiramisu. If you haven’t had a chance to read his story yet, please do. Have tissues handy. He is a wonderful person who has been through so much, yet he remains positive and full of life. I feel so blessed to know him.
Michael has been wanting to teach me his recipe for Kosher Chicken Paprikash, so last Wednesday I headed over to his place for a cooking lesson. My assistant Ashley came along for the ride to snap pics. Michael walked us through the process of making the recipe, step-by-step.
Michael became familiar with this dish during his childhood. He grew up in Transylvania (what is now the central part of Romania, and was once part of Hungary). Because of his background, many of his family recipes have a Hungarian influence. Michael’s mother, who sadly was lost in the Holocaust, cooked this dish for him when he was a young boy. After moving to Israel and later America, Michael became a chef. Though he cooks a variety of foods from around the world, the Hungarian-inspired dishes hold a special place in his heart.
This chicken paprikash might be slightly different than the paprikash you’re familiar with. Many Hungarian paprikash recipes contain sour cream, which adds creaminess to the sauce. Because Michael grew up kosher and milk was never mixed with meat, this recipe contains no dairy. The sauce is rich and thick, but not creamy. Nowadays kosher cooks can substitute dairy-free sour cream in a dish like this, but back then soy-based dairy substitutes didn’t exist. If you aren’t worried about keeping it kosher, you can stir in 1/2 cup sour cream (or more to taste) at the end of cooking. That said, I honestly don’t feel like the dish needs it. I didn’t miss the sour cream here at all. This chicken paprikash is totally delicious as-is.
Traditionally the dish is served over what Michael called nokeli – in some regions it is known as nokedli or spätzle. These simple little egg noodle dumplings couldn’t be easier to make. I’ve provided instructions here: Nokedli – Spätzle. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of making the dumplings (or if you’re gluten free), you can easily sub mashed potatoes, rice, or even quinoa. The dish pairs well with a starch, but you could also serve it with a green vegetable or mashed cauliflower to make it low carb. It’s a versatile entree.
After we cooked, we ate together and chatted about Michael’s new hobby. He’s recently started organizing large dinners for the residents of his retirement complex. Everybody pitches in money for the ingredients, then Michael cooks the food. They’ve been doing it twice a month, but the residents are enjoying it so much they’ve asked him to do it every week! Not surprising, Michael’s food is really amazing.
I’ve broken down Michael’s instructions to create the Kosher Chicken Paprikash recipe below. It’s a pretty simple dish to make. This is a hearty but healthy cold weather dish, a super comforting meal. Thanks to Michael for sharing!
- 12 pieces chicken legs and thighs
- 2 tsp paprika (Hungarian paprika is best)
- 2 red bell peppers, seeded
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 tsp chicken consomme powder
- 4 cloves fresh garlic
- 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions peeled and sliced
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley, divided
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
You will also need
- Large sauce pot, blender
- Before he begins, Michael likes to take the skin off of the chicken, so the dish doesn't contain as much fat. You can leave the skin on if you prefer.
- Sprinkle the chicken pieces generously with paprika, salt and pepper (if using kosher chicken, salt lightly).
- Place the bell peppers, tomatoes, chicken consomme powder and garlic into a blender.
- Blend to form a sauce.
- In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium. Saute the onion slices in olive oil until tender.
- Once the onions have softened and are starting to caramelize, add the seasoned chicken pieces to the pot. Saute for a few minutes.
- Pour the blended sauce over the top of the chicken pieces. Add water till the sauce just covers the chicken.
- Sprinkle with 3 tbsp of the chopped parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste (I used about 1 1/4 tsp of each), and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover the pot, vented slightly.
- Cook the chicken for about 1 hour or to desired tenderness. The longer it simmers the more tender it becomes.
- When the chicken is finished cooking, adjust salt and pepper seasoning to taste. Mix together 2 tbsp cornstarch with 3 tbsp of cold water. Gently stir the corn starch mixture into the chicken sauce and simmer for a minute or two to thicken.
- Serve chicken and sauce over warm nokedli - spätzle or the starch of your choice. Mashed potatoes, egg noodles and rice will also work well. Sprinkle with remaining 1 tbsp chopped parsley to garnish (optional).