Paprika, the spice of Hungary.
The main characteristic of the traditional Hungarian kitchen is paprika, without any doubt.
– Paprika powder is produced by grinding the dried, deep red paprika pods of the pepper plant (Capsicum annum L. is the botanical name).
– Although paprika is the symbol of Hungary’s cuisine, the plant was brought to the country by the Turks only in the 16-17th centuries.
– Its pungency ranges from sweet to mildly hot and very hot, depending of the type of pepper the powder was produced.
– The colour of the spices varies from mild to bright red and there are paprika powder types with brownish colour too. Note that not the brightest red paprika is the hottest! The orange coloured one will make you really cry.
– The hotness is caused by capsaicin, a chemical that is extracted from paprika plants to use in pharmaceutical production due to its pan killer effect.
Cooking with paprika:
To release the full flavour and aroma, you have to add it to hot lard or oil, but pay attention because it can easily get burnt because of its sugar content. Burnt paprika tastes bitter and can ruin the whole dish.
To be on the safe side, remove the pan from the heat while you add the paprika to the hot oil and stir the mixture continuously.
Quickly add the meat or vegetable (potato, mushroom etc.) and some water or other liquid (it can vary from recipe to recipe) to the paprika gravy to reduce the heat.
Now you can put the pan back to the heat and continue cooking according to the recipe.
Best practice to buy paprika:
Get your paprika supply at autumn- winter time of the year, and purchase enough until the next harvest time.
Check the date of expiration, -the longer, the better.
Hungarian paprika is of a very fine quality, so I suggest you to stick with that.
Keep the paprika powder in a cool and dark place.