A hearty recipe for Hungarian paprikash and langos

Katalin Varga was only six years old when she started cooking alongside her father in their village near the Ukrainian border in Hungary.

“Every Sunday in my village, it was soup, then chicken paprikash with nokedli, then cake,” says Kathy. “And my dad was a really good cook and because I was my dad’s daughter, I was always by his side and that’s how I learned. I just started cooking too. . I used to bake cakes and was a baker first.”

Her father was “the best cook in the village”, so Kathy had the chance to learn from a great. The chicken paprikash she learned alongside her father is a dish she still cooks at Corner 75the Randwick restaurant run by his 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 became the kitchen manager. At that time, Corner 75 had already been managed for 11 years by their friend Csaba Cserfalvi. In 22 years, this authentic ode to Hungarian cuisine has only had two owners.

In the 80s, it was mainly fellow Hungarians who frequented the restaurant, but today its loyal customers from all walks of life. Paul – who says he was “born to be a host” – attributes this to the welcoming old-world European vibe and, of course, the quality of the food that comes out of Kathy’s kitchen.

“There are a lot of Hungarians all over the world, especially in Europe and they are all passionate about food, so chicken paprikash can be prepared differently in Budapest or in the Austrian countryside,” says Paul. “It can be taken in different directions.”

“Every Sunday in my village, it was soup, then chicken paprikash with nokedli, then cake,” says Kathy.

Kathy’s version of paprikash is true to her father’s recipe, so it’s influenced by Ukrainian and Slovak flavors, which have seeped over the border to their small village. Paul tells the story of how Westfield owner Frank Lowry, whose family was originally from Slovakia, tasted Cathy’s paprikash and said, “It’s just like my grandmother does.”

Everyone knows that any recipe that reminds them of their grandmother is an exceptional dish. Kathy says that to cook her paprikash, you have to “have heart” and also “cook with your touch”. In fact, she’s not entirely sure of the exact measurements that go into her recipes, she goes through touch first and taste second.

“You have to keep tasting your dish and adjusting the flavors,” she advises. “A little of this, a little more of that. Every day is different, so you have to taste it. Every day is never 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 admits that at home she takes the easier route. “Usually at home I get sick of the making, so I only use macaroni,” she laughs. “Or mashed potatoes, whatever.”

Lángos is usually eaten as a snack, but it also makes a great spoon to mop up every drop of paprikash sauce. When making her lángos, Kathy uses her touch to determine if the dough is the right consistency.

“I work it with my hands,” she explains. “If I find 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 cuisine are just as important as the main course itself. The side dishes balance out the flavor of the main course and he recommends serving a fresh cucumber salad with paprikash.

“It’s more complex than people think, if you choose the wrong accompaniment it can destroy everything.”

All in all, Paul feels that family recipes like paprikash and lángos are part of the fabric of his being.

“I lived [in Australia] almost 40 years old, and I still need these kinds of ingredients to feel good during the day,” he says. “Even though I like, say, a Caesar salad, I still need [Hungarian food] for my daily survival! It’s at my house.”



Katalin paprikash

For at least 6

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 onion, diced
  • 2 red tomatoes, diced
  • 2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1½ tbsp paprika
  • 1kg chicken thighs (with bone)
  • 1 litre chicken broth, enough to cover
  • 3 tablespoons plain flour
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream

Method

Heat the oil over low-medium heat, then sauté the onion, tomato, bell pepper and garlic for about 20 minutes until fragrant and caramelized.

Increase the heat, then add the chicken thighs and sauté for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Pour the chicken broth over it until the chicken is just covered.

Simmer over low heat for about 50 minutes. After 30 minutes, taste the dish and season with salt and black pepper to taste.

15 minutes before serving, mix the flour and sour cream with a little water and add to the sauce. Bake another 15 minutes then serve with homemade nokedli or macaroni.

Languages

Makes about 20 pieces

“I don’t really measure the ingredients when I make lángos,” admits Cathy.

Here is an approximation of his recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2kg plain flour
  • handful of salt
  • 50ml sugar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh yeast (18g) or 7g instant dry yeast
  • 1 litre hot milk
  • Frying oil
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic

Method

Put all the ingredients (retain some flour) in 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. It is a very soft dough, but it should not stick to the bowl.

Once the dough is homogeneous, cover with a kitchen towel and place in a warm place until the dough rises. It will take about six hours in winter or three in summer.

When ready to cook, drop large spoonfuls of batter into the hot oil and fry each side for about a minute until golden brown.

Garnish each bun with a little crushed garlic. You can also add sour cream or grated cheese or both. Serve hot.