In his lectures on human resource management, my husband talks about different personality types. He likes to use examples from home, more often than not about cooking.
Without getting into details of Myers-Briggs typology, let’s just say he and I are direct opposites. He is a linear thinker and I’m, well, absolutely not. The differences are never more obvious than our approaches to cooking. Drake’s method of arranging spices is to put them in alphabetical order. Mine is to place them according to use (thyme, cumin and red pepper are front and center). He calls this disorganized. To me, it’s the epitome of organization.
Take recipes. He actually thinks they need to be followed — to the letter! For me, most recipes offer way too many details. “Use a medium-sized aluminum bowl…” makes me crazy. It’s like relying on the GPS to guide you out of your own neighborhood.
When the ingredients include Spanish onion or red bell pepper, Drake goes to the grocery store, even though we already have yellow onions and orange bell peppers. He’ll buy Italian seasoning when we have plenty of oregano, basil, thyme and rosemary on hand.
‘Use what you have’ is my mantra. Sometimes the result is better than the original recipe. Bill Smith’s inspired cabbage and leeks from “Seasoned in the South” is a perfect example. I’m willing to bet he was out of onions for the traditional cabbage recipe and happened to have an abundance of leeks in the fridge.
Despite, or because of, his linear approach, Drake’s actually a good cook. And after 20 years of marriage, he’s learned to improvise (a little) and I’ve occasionally followed a recipe.
Last night we had a hankering for chicken paprikash, a recipe I thought I’d perfected for our own collection of favorites. While at the grocery, I didn’t have the recipe so guessed at what we needed. At home I didn’t bother to read my own instructions.
I used three chicken legs and three thighs and a whole bell pepper. I used twice as much paprika. No flour. No tomatoes, but I squirted a little tomato paste from my indispensable “Sicilian toothpaste tube” (Amore tomato paste). I used half as much sour cream. I had no chicken stock, so I substituted Better Than Bouillon and water. (I’m a believer in good homemade stock, but in a recipe like this it’s not crucial.)
And it was delicious! Let me encourage y’all to improvise. But if you want to follow a recipe, Drake says this is a good one.
6 to 8 bone-in chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped roughly
1⁄2 red bell pepper, chopped roughly
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Hungarian sweet paprika
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika (aka pimentón de la Vera)
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup canned diced or crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth, homemade or, if not, low-sodium
1 lb. egg noodles or spaetzle
2 tablespoons butter
3⁄4 cup sour cream
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven and sear the chicken on both sides until golden and crisp. Remove chicken to a plate.
Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the accumulated fat in the pot. Return the pot to the stove, over medium heat, and add the onion and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic, and cook two more minutes. Add the paprika and flour, stir well to combine, then cook, stirring, until the taste of the flour has been cooked out, 4 to 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes and broth, whisk until smooth and then nestle the chicken back in the pan, skin-side up. Cover the pan and cook for about 20 minutes over low heat until the chicken has cooked through.
Meanwhile, make noodles or spaetzle according to package directions. Drain the noodles, and toss them in a bowl with the butter.
Place the chicken on top of the noodles, then add the sour cream to the sauce, stir to combine and ladle it over the chicken.