Remembering Grandma

It has been a hard couple of weeks. I turned to the spirit of my great-grandmother often through the worst of it, asking for her companionship and hoping that her faith in me not be mistaken.

Since she was on my mind so heavily, I ended up making two of her favorite dishes - mutancana (also Romaized mutanjana) and paprikash.

Mutancana is traditionally made with mutton (hence the name), cooked in fruit and honey. My great-grandmother’s recipe is her version and is not fully traditional, as she altered it through the years to suit her preference. I used lamb, as no butchers near me were selling mutton. It is a little sweeter made with lamb, without the particular musky flavor of mutton, so I add a little more spice than usual.

There are… many, many ways of making paprikash. Please do not treat this as the absolute. The only thing I will advise is finding real, authentic Hungarian paprika (which is also needed in my goulash recipe). Hungarian paprika is traditionally available in eight different flavor profiles, from the mild bright red Hungarian paprika to the spicy, pungent, and pale orange Paprika. The easiest to find in the United States is the bright red variety called édesnemes, which has a pungent peppery flavor.

Additionally, I use Spanish paprika: Spanish paprika is often labeled "pimentón," and is commonly made with smoked peppers, which contribute a deeper, smokier flavor to the table. Spanish paprika vary based on the blend of peppers used, which go on a spectrum from sweet to spicy - dulce (sweet), agrodulce (bittersweet), or picante (hot) varieties can generally be found in the United States at a good spice shop. In this recipe, I use both a sweet Spanish paprika (the big bottle), a bittersweet Spanish paprika, and an extra smoky Spanish paprika.

It really isn’t necessary to use that many different kinds. I would just recommend a good Hungarian one, if possible.

Mutancana (Mutanjana)

  • Mutton or lamb, two to three pounds
  • Cornstarch, two to three tablespoons
  • Aromatic oil
  • High-fat butter
  • Brandy, cognac, or fortified wine, one to two cups
  • Dates
  • Black rice, one to two cups, or substitute rice of choice and adjust cook times accordingly
  • Shallots or onions
  • Heirloom black grapes
  • Almonds, preferably Turkish, blanched - one cup
  • Honey
  • Sumac
  • Saffron
  • Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the lamb into larger than bite pieces. Blot the lamb dry with a towel. Salt and pepper generously, then scatter over with cornstarch. Toss the lamb in the cornstarch until it is well coated.

Heat the aromatic oil and butter together in a large Dutch oven or similar oven-safe casserole-style cookware until it is combined and shimmering.

In batches, brown all the lamb pieces on all sides golden brown. Remove from the pan and deglaze the fond using the alcohol of choice, optionally setting the alcohol alight to flambé the oil, butter, and browned bits into a rich and flavorful liquid.

Put the lamb back into the pot and cover, leaving a small gap in the placement of the lid so that the lamb braises, rather than steams.

Put into the oven for 3 ½ to 4 hours, occasionally turning the lamb so that it cooks evenly.

Remove the stone from the dates and chop. 1 hour into the cooking time for the lamb, add the dates and stir to combine, before replacing the lid to the pot and continuing braising.

When one hour remains on the cooking time, add the black rice to the Dutch oven, stirring to make sure it is fully submerged in the liquid in the pan. Continue braising.

Paprikash

  • Chicken - preferably a whole chicken, but dark meat on the bone will also serve
  • High-fat butter or lard or schmaltz, two tablespoons
  • Onion, one large, either sweet or red
  • Tomatoes, eight to ten medium to large, preferably heirlooms
  • Garlic, one head
  • Bell or sweet peppers
  • Chicken stock, 16 ounces, preferably homemade but a good quality store-bought one will suffice
  • Paprika, preferably a mixture of Hungarian (either the bright red and mild version or, if you like some heat, the pungent and yellow version), Sweet, and Smoked, five to six tablespoons
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Break down the whole chicken into pieces, blot dry with towels, and salt and pepper thoroughly. Reserve the wings, spine, and ribcage for making chicken stock.

Chop the onion and the bell or sweet peppers to bite-size (if using bell peppers, remove the seeds, if using sweet peppers they can remove). Mince the garlic.

Melt butter in a braising pan over medium-high heat until shimmering, then add the chicken pieces and brown on both sides until they easily lift from the pan and the skin is crisp and golden.

Remove the chicken and set it aside. Add the onions and peppers to the pan and saute until the onion browns just begins to soften, then add the garlic and saute together for an additional thirty seconds, being careful not to let the garlic burn.

Lower the heat to medium-low and add the paprika. Stir to combine and cook together briefly, until it coats the vegetables and darkens, but does not burn - paprika burns easily, so stay with the dish and stir frequently.

Bring the heat back up to medium-high and add the chicken stock, then add the tomatoes and simmer, covered, for ten to fifteen minutes, or until the tomatoes have burst and softened. Smash the tomatoes to create a sauce. Add the chicken pieces back in, making sure they are covered to at least halfway to most of the way up the side, adding more chicken stock if needed to ensure there is enough liquid.

Place the lid back onto the braising dish and simmer on low for two and a half hours.

Optionally, at the end of the cook time, the lid can be removed from the braising dish and the entire dish broiled for a few minutes to ensure some crispier skin.

Sweet Black Bread

  • Unbleached bread flour, divided, 2 1/2 cups
  • Sprouted rye flour, plus more for dusting, 1 cup
  • Lukewarm water, 1 1/8 cups
  • Apple cider vinegar, two tablespoons
  • Salt, 1 1/4 teaspoons
  • Unsalted high-fat European butter, 2 tablespoons
  • Molasses, 2 tablespoons
  • Brown sugar, 1 tablespoon
  • Black cocoa, 3 tablespoons
  • Espresso powder, 1 teaspoon
  • Fennel seeds, to taste, approximately 1/4 to 1 teaspoon
  • Instant yeast, 1 3/4 teaspoons

Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl, reserving 1 cup (120g) of the bread flour. Mix to make a thick batter-like dough. Don't worry how wet the dough seems at this point; it'll become more dough-like when you add the remaining 1 cup (120g) of bread flour.

Mix in the remaining cup of flour and knead for 7 minutes, or until the dough becomes soft and elastic, but may still be somewhat sticky to the touch. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

After the first rise, shape the dough into an oblong loaf. Place in a greased 9" x 5" or 10" x 5" bread pan, cover with greased plastic, and let rise until almost doubled, about 60 to 90 minutes.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F. When the dough has almost doubled, brush or spray the top with water, dust with pumpernickel or rye flour, and score (slash) the top.

Bake the bread for about 35 minutes, until it sounds hollow when you thump the bottom, or the inside measures 205°F on a digital thermometer. Remove the loaf from the oven and cool it on a rack before slicing.

Store bread well wrapped at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.