A Visit From a Culinary Celebrity : Hungarian Chef Shares a Few of His Nation's Favorites

Times Staff Writer

Every once in a while, The Times' Test Kitchen is privileged with a visit from a celebrity chef.

We have had Jean Troisgros, and Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, Jacques Pepin, Wolfgang Puck, America's culinary sweetheart Julia Child, the late James Beard, among many others. Some actually cook, others simply come to talk.

We've had chefs from many countries around the world, but never anyone from a country behind the Iron Curtain, until recently when we were paid a brief visit by leading Hungarian chef, Janos Cseh, the executive chef of the Atrium Hyatt in Budapest.

Cseh, his assistants and a gypsy orchestra from Budapest had come to Los Angeles to help promote one of the restaurants at the Hyatt Regency, an affiliate of the Hyatt International Corp. sponsoring the chef's tour, with permission, of course, of the Hungarian People's Republic.

An Early Beginning

Cseh, 31, had begun his cooking career as a 14-year-old apprentice. "I have seen only restaurant work," he said.

Cseh explained that Hungarians are culturally hospitable people who are always trying to feed you. "They love to eat, drink and dance. You find yourself in an eating marathon with a four-hour-long meal."

Hungarian dishes are as much enjoyed around the world as they are in Hungary, however. Gulyas , a soup erroneously thought of as a stew, is, perhaps, most renowned. And what a pleasant dish it is to eat with crusty bread hard enough and absorbent enough to sop up the thick juices.

Cseh arrived with samples of his handiwork: Csirke Paprikas (Chicken Paprikash) and some strudel. Chicken Paprikash, which takes its name from the sweet Hungarian paprika widely available here, relies on steam-cooking the onion for one hour before adding chicken and seasonings. The reason? "Steaming the onion for an hour (keep checking on the water so the onion won't burn) is the only way to get maximum flavor from it. It isn't necessary to cook the onion for a long time when cooking meat because the onion cooks along with it. But (the) cooking time of chicken is much shorter, so we recommend the long, slow cooking," Cseh said.

Sour cream ( tejfol ) is generally served on the side. Chicken Paprikash is usually accompanied by a cucumber salad and hot cooked rice, egg barley or dumpling known as nockerl.

Here are the recipes shared by Cseh.


( Gulyas )

2 pounds medium onions, chopped

1/4 cup lard or chicken fat

2 pounds boneless chuck beef, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

2 tablespoons Hungarian sweet paprika

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3 tablespoons red wine

12 cups beef broth

1 teaspoon caraway seeds

1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram

12 cloves garlic

1/4 cup flour

Salt, pepper

1 medium green pepper, seeded and diced

1 large tomato peeled, seeded and diced

1 potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

Saute onion in lard until golden. Add beef, paprika and tomato paste. Mix well. Add red wine and beef broth. Combine caraway seeds, marjoram and garlic in grinder or blender. Blend until smooth. Stir into beef mixture. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer 45 minutes, stirring often. Combine flour and 1/2 cup of the beef broth in pan until smooth. Stir into soup and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 45 minutes longer. Add green pepper, tomato and potato. Simmer, covered 15 minutes longer or until potatoes are tender. Makes 6 to 8 servings


( Csirke Paprikas )

1/4 cup butter or oil

1 medium onion, chopped

3/4 cup water

1 (3 1/2-pound) chicken, cut up

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika

Salt, pepper

1 cup sour cream

Heat butter in skillet. Add onion and saute over medium heat 2 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer over very low heat 1 hour. Add chicken, pepper, tomato, paprika and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer over low heat 35 minutes or until chicken is tender. Serve sour cream separately. Makes 6 servings.

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