Czech Republic: Bohemian Paprika Chicken Casserole
This countryside dish would have been the perfect treatment for that farmhouse standby, the years-old laying hen whose egg-laying days have sadly come to an end. These days, when not so many of us have chickens in the back yard, the supermarket broiler or fryer will do just as well...
and the thrifty shopper will often find that packages of chicken legs are way less expensive, pound for pound or kilo for kilo, than the equivalent weight of a whole chicken.
Starting from scratch with dried white beans gives this dish a lot of its character. (You can of course substitute canned / tinned ones, but the final result is likely to be more mushy.) Also, there's no reason you have to add the sour cream if you don't care to, though there's no avoiding the fact that sour cream tends to turn up in the finishing stage or as a final garnish in a lot of Czech meat dishes. ...This dish serves four, and is adapted from one in Peter Trnka's excellent The Best of Czech Cooking.
- 4 chicken legs
- 4 thick rashers / thick strips of bacon (and 2 tablespoons lard if your bacon won't produce enough fat to fry an onion in and color / seal the chicken pieces)
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 large green pepper, diced
- 2 cups (usually equalling 1 average-sized can) canned tomatoes
- 1 1/2 cups dried white beans
- 1 cup chicken broth or water
- 2 tablespoons paprika
- 1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
The night before cooking:
Find a bowl that will easily handle double the amount of beans, put the beans in it, fill the bowl with water, and put in a cool place to soak for at least overnight but ideally 24 hours.
On cooking day:
Drain and rinse the beans well. Put in a 2-quart pot (or one of approximately that size), cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer for about an hour or until the beans are tender. Drain them and set them aside.
In a big heavy flameproof casserole dish or fryer (enameled iron is best for this if you've got it), fry the bacon on medium heat until it's almost crisp. (If you're in the UK or Ireland and dealing with back bacon or a similarly non-fatty type, help your bacon out by melting a little lard in the pan first.) When it's done, remove it to a plate with a paper towel to drain a little. When cooled, chop the bacon the short way into pieces about a quarter to a third of an inch wide.
Add the chopped onion and saute it, stirring often to make sure it doesn't scorch: you want it to get to the stage where it's almost golden. When it's ready, remove it to a bowl.
Now increase the heat and add the chicken pieces. (Add a little more lard at this point if there's not enough fat to work with.) Fry the chicken pieces on both sides until they're golden brown. Remove to a plate so that you'll have room to work on the sauce and beans in the big pot.
Sprinkle the flour into the hot fat and start frying it up, stirring it constantly. After a minute or so add the diced green pepper: keep stirring. After another minute or so add the onions and keep frying the whole mixture up, stirring constantly to keep anything from sticking. Add the chopped bacon and keep stirring.
Now pour in the chicken stock and stir and scrape enthusiastically to get all the brown crusty stuff off the bottom and into the sauce. After a minute, add the tomatoes and keep stirring and scraping hard. Then add the beans and mix well. Season well with the paprika, parsley, salt, and plenty of freshly coarse-ground pepper. Stir the seasoning thoroughly through the beans and sauce. Add the chicken a piece at a time to the mixture, submerging it as completely as possible in the sauce and beans, and spooning some over the top.
Bring the casserole to a low boil. Then cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the casserole cook gently until done, about an hour.
If you want to use the sour cream, you can either stir it into the sauce-and-beans mixture in the casserole just before serving time, or set it out for each diner to add the preferred amount to his or her dish.
Serve with potatoes and a green salad.