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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Spice Dust

Sweet. Hot. Smoked. Bittersweet. Hungarian. Spanish. Californian. South American.

Paprika is one spice we probably all have tucked away in our pantries. Most often relegated to a dusting for deviled eggs or potato salads, sometimes paprika gets a bad rap.

Humble paprika, made from air-dried ground capsicum annum chiles and used widely in Hungarian and Spanish cuisines, happens to be the fourth most consumed spice in the world.

Regular paprikas, those labeled simply as "paprika" and found on most supermarket shelves, might consist of mixed ground peppers from either Hungary, South America, or California. Neither sweet nor hot, the regular garden variety paprika hits a middle of the road flavor profile. That said, jazzed up with a few tweeks and/or add-ins, I'll take it over no paprika.

Imported Hungarian paprikas, graded and labeled by quality and pungency, all have undertones of rich sweet dried pepper with varying degrees of pungency and heat (special, mild, delikatess, semisweet, sweet, and hot).  Hungarian paprika adds robust depth of flavor and color to stews, braises, and sauces.

Spanish paprika (pimenton), less intense than the Hungarian versions, can range from mild (dulce) to medium (agridulce) to hot (picante), depending on how they're processed. In certain regions of Spain, the chiles are roasted over smoldering oak fires to impart deep smoky flavor and color.

While I might be somewhat partial to smoked paprika, I love them all and usually combine several varieties for added depth of flavor and complexity. When cooked, the delicate powder blooms from the heat and explodes with big flavor and bold color. With crazed abandon, I'm never timid with paprika. I like to know it's there...present. Big. Bold.  In fact, I know I've usually hit the mark when when my lips and fingers are stained with ruddy red dust.

Sherried Paprika Chicken With Fresh Pappardelle Pasta


I typically roll with a very basic pasta dough.for raviolis and thinner cut pastas. For this wider, bulkier, and sturdier pappardelle pasta, I wanted to go a little more egg-centric.

I sifted 2 cups Weisenberger Mill AP flour into the well of a food processor, added 1 teaspoon salt, and pulsed it a few times to combine the two before adding 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and 6 room temperature Elmwood Stock beaten eggs ( 4 yolks and 2 whole eggs). After pulsing the dough a few times, I knew I needed to add a tablespoon of water to counter the humidity in the room. When the dough came together, I scooped it onto a well floured board and gave it a vigorous knead. After about 10 minutes, the dough turned from a rough mix to a smooth dough. I cupped into it a manageable disc, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and set it aside for an hour to rest.

When the dough  relaxed. I used a bench scraper to divide the dough into fourths, took one fourth (covered the rest with a dish towel), smashed it into a small disc, floured it well, and passed it through widest setting of the pasta roller several times, folding the pasta into itself after each pass. When the dough was smooth and pliable, I passed the dough through the rollers, changing the rollers to a thinner setting after each pass, stopping shy of the thinnest setting. I trimmed the dough, cut it in half, floured it, set it aside, and rolled out the remaining dough.

Pappardelle. The fun part. Here's the deal. I adore cutting pasta, but cutting pasta into smaller ribbons (linguinni and angel hair) with a hand cranked pasta machine can turn into a juggling act. One hand cranks the pasta while the other hand separates the cut ribbons as they gently fall into doughy piles, break apart, stick together, or fall onto the floor.Crank and roll. Once cut, they have to be carefully separated again, floured, twirled into nests, or hung to dry. While the juggling dance is totally worth the effort, cutting fresh  pappardelle pasta takes the edge off the process. Kick back with a sharp knife and a glass of wine. No need for cutters, goggles, or dance shoes.

With all the pasta sheets on deck and well floured, I simply rolled them into individual cylinders and sliced them into 3/4' ribbons before feathering them onto parchment paper-lined sheet pans. Boom. Slow dance. After dusting the ribbons with flour, I set them aside, and had a glass of wine.

A Chicken In Every Pot.
After rinsing and patting dry  2 1/2 pounds Marksbury Farm chicken thighs and legs, I liberally seasoned the pieces with kosher salt, cracked black pepper, and paprika. I slid a large cast iron skillet over a medium high flame and added 1./2 cup vegetable oil. When the oil sizzled around the tip of a wooden spoon, I dredged the chicken in flour, shook of the excess, carefully lowered the chicken pieces into the hot oil, and browned them on both sides before removing the thighs and legs to a side plate.

While the oil was still very hot, I tumbled 3 sliced leeks ( white and pale green parts only, well rinsed) into the sizzling oil along with 3 minced shallots and 4 peeled whole garlic cloves. For a little extra punch, I added 2 minced garlic cloves and let them sweat before deglazing the skillet with 1 cup dry fino sherry and 1/2 cup 15 year aged sherry vinegar. When the sherry/sherry vinegar combo reduced by half, I added 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, 1/2 cup chopped celery, 4 julienned roasted piquillo peppers, 2 bay leaves, 2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika, 1 heaping tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika, salt, pepper, 1 cup chicken stock, and 2 cups hand crushed San Marzano canned tomatoes.

I brought the sauce to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, slipped the chicken pieces into the sauce (juices included), scattered buttery green Castelvetrano olives around the chicken, covered the skillet, and let the chicken rip for 45 minutes before removing the lid to let the sauce reduce for 15 minutes. After pulling the skillet from the heat, I let the chicken rest while I cooked the pasta.

I brought 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large stock pot, seasoned the water with kosher salt, cooked the pappardelle until it was al dente (about 3-4 minutes), tossed the pasta with unsalted butter, and nestled the tender pieces of chicken into the pillowy pappardelle before finishing with slivered shallots,  fresh parsley, and celery heart leaves.

Napping the chicken and staining the pappardelle, the crushed tomatoes and roasted peppers melted into the sauce, infusing the smoky sweet nuttiness of the reduced sherry with a subtle charred acidity that countered the soft kick of the mellowed paprika. While the olives added a slight briny poke with fruity undertones, the celery heart leaves provided bright clean crunch.

With one flick of a knife tip, the tender meat simply slipped from the bones, swirled through the sauce, and fell into the pasta. Twirl. Swipe. Repeat.

Finger food.

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