Poulet au paprika

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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11 Responses to Poulet au paprika

  1. Bonnie says:

    I’ve already made this twice, to great approval in my hungry household…. Thank you, Meg.

  2. Julie says:

    Simple and delicious. I used one third Spanish paprika and two thirds Hungarian, but I had to substitute nonfat Greek yogurt because my crème fraiche had gone bad (it keeps for a long time, but apparently not that long!)

    My late mother-in-law had mental health problems and insisted that my husband, as a teen, did not need any more food than his younger sisters. His best friend’s saintly mom would feed him a large, early dinner every afternoon before he went home to his own meal. This was one of her specialties, so he was delighted by this version.

  3. Tati says:

    Thank you. My mum came from western Ukraine – with much the same measurement instructions…a lot of it went by eye and feel. My cousins are still there….and to date though we have offered to bring them to Canada they do not want to leave their home. I am grateful for this and all your recipes they enrich our family life. Thank you.

    • Meg says:

      Thank you, Tati — and to all of you who have commented on this post. My thoughts will be with your relatives who are still in Ukraine.

  4. Paula Butturini says:

    Great post, Meg! Thanks for every word of it!

  5. Judy Lopatin says:

    Lovely post, Meg. I also loved your post about your work with Ukrainian refugees. Brava!… I too have Ukrainian Jewish roots—my dad was born in a village called Kremenets, then part of Poland. He emigrated with his family to Canada at age 3. My sister adopted my niece from an orphanage in Mariupol in 2003. It’s so heartbreaking!
    Judy
    (We met in Paris in the mid-2000s, you were so kind to help me get an interview at the IHT.)

  6. Ann says:

    Love these family recipes, Meg! I look forward to trying the chicken.

  7. Sherry Friedman says:

    This dish looks wonderful, as are you for being a force for good in helping these desperate people find safety. I find myself ashamed of my Russian heritage as the ever growing support for Putin is both horrifying and disillusioning…trying to find the good in humankind gets harder and harder, especially in light of what’s going on here in the US. Thanks for sharing some of your background…and your grandma’s food sounds delicious…stuffed cabbage and cheesecake…mmm.

  8. Leslie Stephen says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your family’s story and your thoughts on the brutal invasion of Ukraine. It would be a lovely tribute to your family and the Ukrainian people for you to post other family recipes.

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