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July/August 2019 Letter From the Editor: Red State

By Dan Souza Published

Dan reflects on his time in a small Hungarian village, and what the experience taught him.

One cool summer evening in 2005, I found myself sitting by a small campfire and holding a thin metal rod with a forked end. Skewered onto the prongs was a hunk of slab bacon scored at intervals down to the rind and heavily coated with paprika. My charge was simple: Hold the bacon over the fire until its fat started to render, dab the fat onto a thick slice of country bread, and repeat. Eventually, the bacon turned crispy and the bread became saturated. I then topped my bread with slices of raw onion, radish, and the crispy bacon. To my mind, it was—and still is—the world's finest open-faced sandwich.

Making it took a while, and that was just the point. As I pressed the sizzling bacon into the bread, flooding its dense crumb with paprika-stained fat, I chatted with neighbors to my left and right. They, too, were plying porky tridents; as we talked, our nostrils became replete with the scents of pork fat and smoke. This was my introduction to szalonnasütés, a Hungarian warm-weather tradition that I enjoyed just as much for the campfire ritual and camaraderie as I did for the sandwich itself. It was also an introduction to my new life as an English teacher in Kétsoprony, Hungary.

I'd end up spending a year in this small farming village located in the southeast corner of the country's massive, impressively flat Great Plain. During that time, I'd learn that my love for food and cooking was a powerful way to connect with just about anyone—and that I had completely misunderstood and underestimated paprika.

I'd always known that paprika was fundamental to Hungarian cooking, but I didn't fully understand its import before arriving in Kétsoprony. More than just a seasoning, paprika is the foundation of countless Hungarian braises, stews, casseroles, and both fresh and dry-cured sausages. It pairs just as well with chicken, pork, and beef as it does with fish, eggs, potatoes, and cabbage. If the Hungarians can grow, raise, or catch it, paprika can season it.

During my first trip to the market, I marveled at the massive open burlap sacks of the rust-red powder. They were arranged in pairs, one brimming with sweet (mild) paprika and the other with hot. I saw the same parity in home kitchens, too, where cooks would blend the two types of paprika into dishes by muscle memory, deftly feeling their way to the right balance of heat and fruity chile flavor.

Compared to the stuff I'd grown up sprinkling on deviled eggs and lobster rolls, this paprika was far more aromatic and flavorful—but it wasn't as potent. That puzzled me at first, but over time I came to understand that its mildness was actually an asset. It encouraged you to use a lot of the spice, which explains how paprika became the central component of so many dishes—and of an entire cuisine.

It's summertime again, and while I'm far from Kétsoprony, I hope I'll find my way to a few more campfires. You never know who you might meet, what new rituals you might discover, or what you might realize you've always underestimated.

Dan Souza

Editor in Chief


View all of the recipes, reviews, articles, videos, and how-to-cooks for the July/August 2019 issue

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.