Friday, July 8, 2011

Comfort Casserole


1 medium-sized onion
2 medium carrots, scrubbed but not peeled
1 pound of green cabbage (wedge from 3 to 4 pound head, core removed)
2 Tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
6 chicken thighs, skinned but bone-in
½ pound smoked sausage
¼ cup catsup
¼ cup orange juice
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce


1.     Peel the onion, cut in half from leaf end to root end, lay flat surface of onion on cutting board, and thinly slice onion halves in semicircles. Cut carrots on a diagonal into thin ovals. Slice cabbage to thin ribbons resembling noodles. Slice smoked sausage into bite-sized oval no more than a ¼” thick.

2.     Pour oil into a heated large non-stick skillet. Brown chicken thighs, 3 at a time, on medium-high heat for about 2 minutes per side. Set thighs aside after browning. Add slices of smoked sausage to brown until slightly caramelized on each side of the slices.

3.     Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon to a ceramic casserole large enough to contain the chicken thighs in a single layer. Keep the skillet on medium heat reserving the oil used to brown meats. Layer the casserole with the sausage ovals. Place the chicken thighs on top of the layer of sausage.

4.     Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Sauté onions in skillet with reserved oil. Add the cabbage when the onion slices are translucent, and allow the cabbage to wilt stirring mixture often. When the cabbage is wilted, add the carrots, catsup, Worcestershire sauce, and orange juice. Mix the vegetables well and layer on top of the meats in the casserole.

5.     Cover the casserole and place in the preheated oven. Braise the casserole contents for about 40 minutes, then serve.

No salt or pepper was added because the condiments and smoked sausage seasoned the casserole mixture.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Chicken Paprikash and Variations on a Theme

Chicken paprikash is a dish that has many different recipes. I have seen at least a dozen variations. Paprikash is of Hungarian origin, but many Slavic and other cookbooks have recipes for the dish. Paprika is the Hungarian word for pepper. I have a Czech cookbook that has the recipe in it.

My mother made chicken paprikash when I was growing up. She gave me a copy of her recipe when I asked for it. The recipe was what I would call minimalist. It called for a chicken cut up into parts, some diced onion, a cup of tomato juice, a mere ½ teaspoon of paprika, a cup of sour cream, a tablespoon of flour, salt and ground black pepper. It was to be served with rice or noodles.

I have enhanced the recipe with additional vegetables and condiments. The reason for the enhancement was to increase the nourishment of the dish, and keep from having to cook side dishes of vegetables. If you have read any other chapters in this book, you have probably come to the conclusion that I can’t let well enough alone.

Here’s the variation on a theme. I suggested to my wife that I make some chicken paprikash for our Saturday night dinner. She told me that there were no chicken parts in the freezer. There were a couple of 1-inch thick boneless center-cut pork chops in the freezer. Their weight was about a pound. The chops had been in there for a couple of months. I decided to use the chops as a substitute for the usual chicken.

Now pork chops can be tricky. They often come out dry and tough when not prepared correctly. The reason that pork chops are more difficult to cook now than they were 50 years or more ago is that the meat is much leaner. The recipes in old cookbooks that describe how to cook pork chops are almost useless in today’s kitchen.

I have found that brining pork chops before cooking results in tender chops. The November & December 2001 issue of Cook’s Illustrated contains an article entitled The Basics of Brining (Brining 101 appears on the cover). I’ve prepared pork chops since reading the Cook’s Illustrated article with very good results.

Here’s how I prepared the pork chop paprikash. The brining solution was made first. Add ¼ cup of sugar and ¼ cup of Kosher salt to a quart of cold water (4 cups of water) in a bowl or vessel large enough to accommodate the water and 2 pork chops of the size I mentioned above. Allow the salt and sugar to go into solution. Meanwhile, prepare to process the other ingredients that are to go into the dish.

My chicken paprikash contains most of the ingredients I mentioned above plus bell pepper, carrot, ground hot chile powder and sometimes a few squirts of Worcestershire sauce and/or a few drops of liquid smoke. A chile is the capsicum pod of the chile plant, which is commonly know in the United States as a hot pepper. The rest of the world refers to capsicums as chiles. I use only one brand of Worcestershire sauce, the one that is made with tamarind, not soy sauce.