Last year was my Year of Tarragon. I was incapable of making any savory dish without it, whining and beatings by friends notwithstanding. This year, Jada is All About Paprika. My father has been screaming about paprika for years — he has even dried and ground his own with peppers purchased at the farmers market. I am of course far too slothful for any such activity, but he gives me some, and it's easy to order different varieties online ("Add to Cart," April 3). It's worth buying the foreign varieties; the difference really is palpable. Paprika, for those who think of it as a decorative add-on that delivers the flavor of gritty mud, needs to be heated to let its bouquet of sweet spiciness blossom fully. I always imagine the Spice from Dune tasting like paprika: earthy and sort of sweet, like cave air — verdant, almost. Hungarian paprika in America is sold primarily in sweet or hot, although mind-blowing varieties are available in Europe. The spice house (thespicehouse.com) has a half-sharp, which is both sweet and hot, although I suppose you could just buy Hungarian paprikas locally and mix them. Hungarian paprika is touted as yielding health benefits galore (think of hale and hearty Hungarians, hunting and harvesting) and it's mild enough to use by the tablespoon, which makes it particularly useful for adding color. You don't realize how much you want to add color until you start. Because you can use Hungarian sweet paprika in large quantities, you can color most things with it. Mix ¼ cup of paprika into a paste with a little thyme, salt, pepper, smashed garlic and olive oil, and coat fish, chicken or potatoes with it before cooking and your food will look ruddy and handsome. Mix mayonnaise with lots of paprika and chopped capers to give your sandwich, steamed asparagus and artichokes a lovely reddish sauce. I never pan-fry scallops without dusting each side thickly with paprika; it's an excellent companion for the sweetness of seafood. Spanish paprika has been smoked, which is a stronger flavor, so unless you want your dish to taste like a potage of liquid smoke, you want to go easy on the ol' Spanish. It also comes in hot and sweet. Different brands, unsurprisingly, taste different; my family prefers Szeged (because we like the town) and the Spice House choices. Paprika goes stale quickly, so keep it sealed like the dickens and use it like mad.
These wonderful recipes were invented by Darius Brotman.
Corn and Leek Chowder with Paprika
Ingredients and method:
1 large leek, trimmed, sliced and washed
1 tablespoon butter
4 cups chicken stock
2 or 3 ears of fresh corn
2 tablespoons cream
2 teaspoons sweet red paprika
Sauté the leeks in a knob of butter.
Add the stock and simmer for a few minutes. Add half of the fresh cut kernels from the corn. Mix all this in a blender and return it to the pan.
Add the rest of the corn kernels, cream, paprika and salt to taste. Simmer for a few minutes. Serve and enjoy.
Chicken with Paprika
Ingredients and method:
4 chicken thighs
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup minced shallots
1/2 cup white wine (sauvignon blanc recommended)
2 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon white flour
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup peeled, seeded tomatoes
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
Heat the butter and oil in large sauté pan. Salt and pepper thighs, and fry them skin side down over a medium flame. Leave them to fry for about 15 minutes without turning, but loosen them in the pan from time to time. The skin will get beautifully crisp and brown.
Remove the thighs to a dish and leave them in a warm place. Pour the fat from the pan, leaving about 1 tablespoon. Stir-fry the shallots for a few minutes. Add a splash of wine and keep cooking until the wine is all evaporated and the shallots start to fry again.
Stir in the paprika, flour and pepper, stir-fry for a moment, and add the rest of the wine. Stir well and add the buttermilk. (It's OK if it curdles.) Add the tomatoes and mash them into the sauce. Put the chicken back into the pan, skin side up. Cover partly, and simmer over a low flame for 30 minutes. Remove the chicken to a serving dish and add cream to the sauce (optional) and simmer for a few more minutes. Taste carefully for salt — it might need a little. Serve the dish with rice or polenta.