01 July 2011

Gypsy Kitchens: Hungarian Fish Paprikas with Mákos Metélt

Two Hungarian dishes that have excited and pleased us are paprikas (which is not plural and is pronounced "papri-kash") and mákos metélt ("mak-osh met-ult"). Paprikas is, not surprisingly, an earthy preparation of meat or fish with copious paprika and sour cream. It's a popular lunchtime special at low-key "etterems" - maybe even more common than goulash.
Mákos metélt is an interesting lemon and poppyseed pasta that typically is sweet enough for dessert, but can be toned down to main-plate levels very easily. It has a great textural quality, a crunch of seeds against the stretchy softness of egg noodles.
Usually not served together, they are perfectly good on the same plate.
As with many Magyar dishes, mákos metélt is usually a lot sweeter than it needs to be. Most recipes call for about half a cup of powdered sugar, which is excessive. One dripping tablespoon of honey was plenty, and gave the dish more depth than sugar would have. The highlights of the dish are really the lemon and the poppyseeds, not the sweetness. To accentuate the lemon flavor, add some zest or a few slices of lemon peel. We used the traditional flat egg noodles, called “szélesmetélt,” but any kind of long pasta could work – vermicelli, spaghetti, linguine.
It’s a very simple preparation, with almost nothing to do beyond the initial boiling. After melting a pat of butter in a pan, add the juice from two lemons, some lemon zest, honey (say, one to two tablespoons) and a pinch of salt. Bring the liquid to a light simmer, stir in the pasta and distribute the poppy seeds through the dish – which is best done gradually, because they do tend to clump together. Pour in about a third of a cup of white wine, cover and let cook until done. It shouldn’t take more than two or three minutes, but cooking pasta is never as exact as it should be.
A note – undercook the pasta initially, boiling only until limp, not until done. The real cooking process happens in the pan. Don’t be afraid of taking it out too soon, you can always add more wine and steam longer if it’s not ready yet.
Paprikas is almost always made with chicken, but we decided to cook it with fish. Shrimp – the most prominent fish in our dish – don’t lend themselves well to heavy cooking and saucemaking. To give a more flavorful fishiness to the paprika roux we started with carp, which has a lot of fat and can be abused in a pan better than other seafood. If they’re available, the often discarded carp “tips” are cheap and fatty and break apart into the sauce. Think of this process as being similar to starting a dish with pork fat or bacon, where the meat adds a complimentary background more than it does a focal point.
Cook the onions in oil until just beginning to brown, then add the carp (but not the shrimp!). Throw in the paprika at this point, and mix everything well. Continue cooking over medium heat – not letting it burn – until the fish has begun to disintegrate and the paprika has darkened and become fragrant. Make sure to add more oil if the pan gets dry or if anything begins to stick. Add the shrimp and garlic. Cook until the shrimp are barely done, then remove from the heat and stir in the dill and about a cup of sour cream. Make sure to mix it up vigorously so that the carp is as mashed and smooth as possible. Serve immediately.
One thing to note about this recipe: not all paprika is the same. If it’s available, try getting two types – hot and sweet – so that one can temper the other. If all you have is the mild kind, use a full four or five tablespoons. With spicy varieties, it might be better to scale down to two or three tablespoons, unless you’re really craving heat. After tasting them, we decided to use two tablespoons of hot paprika and three tablespoons of sweet. The advantage of a mixture is that you can tailor the spice to taste and still add more flavor using the sweet type.

Here are the recipes:

Mákos Metélt

Ingredients:
1 pound pasta
1/3 cup poppy seeds
Juice from 2 lemons
Lemon zest (however much you want)
1/2 cup white wine (or however much you need)
1-2 tablespoons honey
Butter

-Undercook the pasta in salted, oiled water, then drain. Make sure it is at least two or three minutes away from being done.
-Melt as much butter as you are comfortable with (within reason) in a large pot or pan. Add lemon juice, zest, wine and honey. Stir until honey has dissolved. Bring to a light simmer, then add pasta and some salt.
-Sprinkle poppy seeds into the pasta, stirring. Attempt to distribute all the ingredients evenly.
-Cover and cook until pasta is done, about 1-3 minutes. Add more wine if absolutely necessary.
-Remove from heat and serve.

Paprikas

Ingredients:
1 pound shrimp
1/2 pound fatty carp, deboned and cut into small chunks
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
3 tablespoons (or more) fresh dill
2 tablespoons hot paprika
3 tablespoons mild paprika
1 cup sour cream
Olive oil

-Lightly brown onion in oil in a large pan.
-Add carp and paprika, stirring until everything is bright red. Cook over medium heat until fish has fried and begun to break apart and paprika is fragrant and darkened (ten minutes, give or take). Stir and scrape the pan as it cooks, and add enough oil so that the mixture doesn't dry out or stick.
-Add shrimp and garlic. Cook until shrimp is just done.
-Remove from heat. Stir in sour cream and dill. Serve

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