A Taste of Hungary: Crockpot Paprika Chicken and Spaetzle Noodles
There’s something so soothing about a noodle. No wonder it gets a starring roll in chicken noodle soup. Flat noodles, thick noodles, stringy noodles, I love them all–and so do my kids!
But one noodle in particular has my middle daughter tossing the fork and grabbing a spoon to scoop piles of noodles from her plate into her mouth, and that’s spaetzle. You may not have heard of this soft, eggy dumpling-like noodle that’s common in Austria, Germany and Hungary. I hadn’t until I travelled there as a college kid. Once I tried it, every restaurant I went to, I’d ask for it.
Now spaetzle are pretty easy to make (no more time really than making a batch of muffins), but they do require some special equipment. The trick with spaetzle is that you make an egg based, loose dough that you then drop through holes into boiling water. They sink to the bottom first then rise up as they cook. I’ve seen some recipes where you simply drop the dough in heaps into a soup or stew to cook it. That makes for some large dough balls that don’t resemble the more delicate, kid-friendly version we make at our house.
Spaetzle makers are surprisingly easy to find (if you know where to look)—and they’re not expensive. I found mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond for around $10. It looks like some sort of defunct cheese grater—there’s a long silver piece with holes the width of an upright pencil and on top of that is a square basket that glides back and forth. I’m not convinced the store person would know what it is if you asked, so here’s a picture of a spaetzle maker.
I pair my spaetzle with either a beef stroganoff, or the traditional paprika chicken. I keep my chicken prep simple, since I know I’ll be spending some time on the pasta—I use my crockpot start to finish. Unless, that is, I want to make the sauce a little fancier. Then I strain the juices from the crockpot and replace it for the milk in my béchamel sauce recipe. Putting the plate together, I put a generous scoop of spaetzle and some pieces of melt-in-your-mouth chicken and top it with some of the crockpot juice (or sauce) and a little heavy cream. Normally, I’d substitute sour cream thinned with a little milk for the heavy cream, but this recipe tastes so much better with a little cream (and hey, it’s more authentic that way).
So if your kiddos are itching to try something new and they’re already noodle fans, these spaetzle are sure to be a hit.
Crockpot Hungarian Chicken
2 pounds chicken (boneless, skinless)
1 14.5-ounce can tomato chunks
1 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup chicken broth (or water)
½ teaspoon white pepper (optional)
½ teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder (optional, but it will give it a little kick)
Salt to taste (at the end of cooking)
Place chicken breasts (fresh or frozen) at the bottom of the crockpot pan. Drain half of the liquid from the tomatoes, then pour the remaining liquid and tomatoes into the crockpot along with the rest of the ingredients (except the salt). Cook until the chicken falls apart.
You can scoop some of the cooking liquid into a mixer and blend to make a sauce, or serve as is. You may want to add more paprika and/or salt.
There are a variety of different spaetzle recipes, but this one is my favorite.
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
Fill a medium-sized pasta pan with water (check that your spaetzle maker fits comfortably on the top of the pan before choosing it). Turn the stovetop on to medium-high heat so that the water comes to a rapid boil.
Mix the eggs until well blended then add milk, then your dry ingredients (note: I try to have the eggs and milk at room temperature for easier mixing). The dough batter will be sticky. Place the spaetzle maker onto the pan and over the boiling water. Fill the spaetzle basket halfway with dough. Slid the basket back and forth over the water so that the dough drops into the water. Once all the dough is out of the basket remove the spaetzle maker. Using a slotted spoon skim the pasta from the top of the water and place into a strainer. Repeat with the remaining dough. You’ll probably have about three batches. Toss in a little butter, and keep warm until you’re ready to serve.
Additional note: Don’t let the dough harden onto the spaetzle maker or your pasta pan—clean right away with hot water and soap.