'H' is for Hungarian Hortobágy-i Crêpes
Admittedly, I have been in a crêpe-making mood recently, having received a brand new crêpe pan for Christmas. A variety of sweet and savory crêpes have since graced my dinners. But a true favorite of mine, and a sure crowd-pleaser, is the Hortobágy-i crêpe, or Hortobágyi Palacsinta in Hungarian. This is a delicious savory crêpe filled with a 'paprikás meat' (that is meat stewed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and PAPRIKA), topped with a rich paprika sauce and a dollop of cool sour cream. Often considered a warm starter, it is equally fitting as the main course. While the original recipe prepared the crêpe with veal paprikás, numerous variations have evolved incorporating chicken, pork, or even mushrooms instead of the veal. Personally, I love to make mine with chicken paprikás.
Although Hortobágy-i crêpes are assuredly a fantastic dish, its name is a MISNOMER, as the dish has nothing to do with Hortobágy, the RENOWNED region in the eastern plains of Hungary, shown in the photos below. While the Hungarians' tradition of stewing meats over an open fire has been practiced for centuries, later in a paprika-based sauce, the history of this particular dish is actually quite young. Hortobágy-i crêpes were submitted as a component of the Hungarian exhibition for the 1958 World Fair held in Brussels. Its name was likely crafted for marketing purposes.
The preparation of Hortobágy-i Crêpes consists of three components.
Make the paprikás meat. In this case, Chicken Paprikás.
Make the Crêpes.
Assemble the crêpes with the filling.
Make the Chicken Paprikás
1/2 stick of butter
~3 lbs. chicken pieces; bone-in and skin-on
2 medium onions, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 Hungarian banana pepper, sliced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 heaping Tbsp of QUALITY Sweet Hungarian paprika
1 heaping Tbsp of QUALITY Hot Hungarian paprika (adjust per taste)
1 tsp of ground caraway seeds
~3-4 cups of chicken stock (I don't actually measure this)
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 heaping Tbsp sour cream
1 heaping Tbsp all-purpose flour
Wash and prep the chicken pieces. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a dutch oven on high heat. When the butter is hot, sear the chicken pieces on both sides and then set them aside in a bowl. Cover with foil.
Place the onions into the dutch oven with the remaining hot butter. Sauté until translucent. Add the sliced peppers, diced tomatoes, and minced garlic. Sauté a bit longer. Remove from heat and add the sweet and hot paprika, and the ground caraway seeds. Don't add the paprika over the heat, as it will burn easily and taste bitter. Once the paprika and caraway seeds are well mixed in, add a little chicken stock. Mix well. Then place all of the seared chicken pieces back into the mixture. Add more chicken stock until 'just shy of completely covering' the chicken pieces. Turn the heat back on to high.
Bring to a boil, and then cover and reduce heat to low. Let the chicken simmer on low for a good 45 minutes, until it looks done and the meat gets close to falling off the bone. Stir frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot or burning.
Once the chicken is done and looking as if it will soon 'fall off the bone', then remove the chicken pieces with tongs and place them into a baking dish. Again, set aside and let cool.
Turn the heat up to medium beneath the sauce. Mix the sour cream and the flour together in a small bowl or measuring cup. Whisk together until smooth. Slowly temper the sour cream with a ladleful of hot paprika sauce and whisk together briskly so that there are no lumps. Add this whisked mixture back to the paprika sauce and let it cook for a short while to allow time for the sauce to thicken. Once the sauce has thickened, turn the heat off. At this point, I process it through a food mill to create a SMOOTH sauce. Set it aside.
Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle, separate the meat from the bone and skin on a cutting board. Discard the bones and skins. Chop and/or shred the meat and place it into a bowl. Pour some of the paprika sauce over the meat and mix together to incorporate. Your chicken paprikás meat filling is now ready to be placed in a crêpe!
Make the Crêpes
Ingredients: (makes 7-8 crêpes)
pinch of salt
1/2 cup milk
1 cup flour
Sparkling water (no measurement ... check for consistency)
In a large bowl, mix together eggs, salt, milk, and flour with an electric hand mixer. Slowly add sparkling water to the mixture until you obtain a 'thick eggnog' consistency. Check the consistency with a ladle.
Place crêpe pan on the stovetop and heat well. Add a tsp of vegetable oil into the pan and swirl around. Once the oil is HOT, add a ladleful of the batter to the crêpe pan and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the pan, creating a thin layer. Cook for about 30-45 seconds until golden color. Flip the crêpe and cook the other side for another 15-30 seconds. Transfer crêpe to a plate. Add a little oil, again, and repeat the process until all batter is used, stacking the finished crêpes one on top of the other. Your crêpes are now ready to be filled.
Assemble the Crêpes
Gather your paprikás meat filling, your crêpes, a working surface, and a baking dish. One at a time lay a crêpe onto your working surface and spread ~4 Tbsps of the meat mixture onto the center of the crêpe. Fold up the bottom of the crêpe and then the two sides and finally the top, 'Burrito-style', to create a rectangular crêpe pocket. Place it into the baking dish. Fill remaining crêpes laying them side-by-side in the baking dish. Top with some paprika sauce, saving some sauce for serving. Heat the crêpes, covered, in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350 F. When serving, plate the Hortobágy-i crêpe, drizzle a little more of the warm paprika sauce on and around the crêpe, and top with a dollop of sour cream.
We love the rich flavor of these savory crêpes. The hot paprika gave my dish some subtle heat. Depending on how spicy you like your food, you can adjust the ratio of sweet:hot paprika or use only sweet paprika if you prefer. I served my Hortobági-i crêpes with a side of cold, creamy cucumber salad which was a perfect accompaniment. I hope you give this delicious dish a try. Would love to hear your comments!