Come Home to Mama
Mama Weiss' Csarda Hungarian Restaurant 1930 -1954
At the onset of the depression, Mama Weiss's furniture store wasn't doing so well. Despite having been the maker for some of Hollywood's biggest stars and executives prior to 1929, including Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and Louis B Meyer, the times had taken their toll. So, Mrs. Weiss a bold, Hungarian woman, sought work elsewhere as a cook for various script writers and Hollywood Agents. When her major client moved back to New York to write for Broadway (where he had started years earlier), Mrs. Weiss decided to convert her own home on Rodeo Drive into a small but truly "family" restaurant. As most of Hollywood's community were from all over the world originally, her modest establishment became home for the Eastern Europeans, Austrians and Black Forest contingent including two of Marlene's most loved Directors, Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch. While I have no record of Marlene having been there, given the frequency of Billy's visits, and Marlene's love of Hungarian slanted European dishes - it is unlikely that she did not. And as this particular spot was not a Paparazzi target, the lack of photo evidence makes perfect sense. At Mama's humble establishment you could get a taste of her spirit and love for people. At the end of the night, she was rumored to emerge into the dining room and with the help of a local violinist entertained the lingering guests with various Hungarian musical favorites like the Folk Song "A malomnak nincsen köve" ("The Mill Doesn't Have a Millstone".) She often was still in her sauce-stained apron and simple checkered dress.
About a year after Mama Weiss began her little enterprise, the Silent-Screen actress Mary Miles Minter became and investor and helped her open a larger location across the street where it remained for the next 19 years. Ms. Minter was quite a character herself, being suspected in the unsolved death of a director, Bill Taylor in 1922. Rumor or not it did not affect the business in the least.
The dish that was most cherished then, besides the Stuffed Cabbage, was the Chicken Paprikash. It was classic, simple and the very definition of "Home" to anyone from that part of the world. Like Chicken Cacciatore for the Italians, this was the dish for the melting pot of Eastern Europe. But as it is with all things called "simple" in cooking, it doesn't necessarily mean "easy". The fewer ingredients in any dish, the better they have to be. A ham and Cheese sandwich can be a disappointment without the proper bread, cheese or ham - and our habit of drowning these shortcomings with mayo and mustard is hardly acceptable.
The first challenge with any Paprika dish is the Paprika. It has to be very good, and very fresh. In this recipe you need Hungarian Sweet Paprika. Not Spanish, not Californian, Hungarian. If you can't find the freshest and best Hungarian Paprika, order it online. I suggest Szeged or Kalocsa paprika. The next "Simple" ingredient to watch out for is the Chicken. You can pretty much skip the grocery store. Go to a real butcher. Latin and other neighborhood butchers are good for this. What you are looking for is a true, free-range backyard medium bird. Higher quality chickens have a slightly yellower skin. You may have to remove some pin feathers or even chop off the head and/or feet yourself but believe me, it's well worth it. While you're at the butcher see if they sell real Chicken Stock. If not, then buy the best stock you can find - sometimes Delis have it or chicken broth also. If all else fails, use Chicken "Better than Bullion", the low sodium version. Do not use Knorr, ever. And finally, Schmaltz. This magical substance is simply rendered Chicken fat. Ask the butcher or you can find it at any Jewish market. If you can't find it, (but do try) substitute with 1/2 butter, 1/2 Olive oil.
The last thing I want to mention is the Noodles. You can substitute a good long-grain white rice, but I don't know why you would want to, it's nowhere as good. These are true Egg-noodles. But here you can go with the "No-Yolks" brand as they come in wide and extra-wide which is needed for this recipe and have a terrific texture and taste that perfectly complements the sauce.
Mama Weiss' Chicken Paprikash (Serves 4)
1 Butchered Chicken (2 Legs, 2 Wings, 2 Breasts, 2 Thighs)
1 Large Onion (Medium/small chop)
5 Tbls Schmaltz (or 2 TBLS Butter and 2 TBLS Olive Oil)
18 Oz of Wide or Extra-Wide No Yolks Egg Noodles
4 Tbls Hungarian Paprika
4 Tbls All Purpose Flour
2 1/2 Cups Chicken Broth or Stock
Fresh White Pepper
1 1/2 Cups Sour Cream
Small bunch of Italian Parsley
In a large, oven proof skillet, melt 1/2 the Smaltz until pretty hot.
Sear the chicken pieces a few at a time until golden brown all over. You can cut each breast in half if they are much larger than the other parts. Remove and set aside in a large bowl. Add the salt and pepper, add 1/2 of the Paprika and mix to get chicken well coated.
In the same pan, add the rest of the Schmaltz and sauté the onions until translucent but not browned.
Slowly add 1/2 cup of the Chicken Broth or Stock and scrape up all the bits left behind by the Chicken and onions.
(Start the Egg Noodles in Boiling Water according to package instructions.)
To the Pan, add the flour and cook until it begins to thicken.
Add the other 1/2 of the Paprika.
Add the reserved Chicken and all juices in the bowl. Reserve bowl.
Add 1 1/2 cups of Chicken Broth or Stock. (Reserve the last 1/2 cup in case you have to loosen the sauce later.)
Place a lid on the pan and cook in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until the internal temp is 160 degrees F. Do not overcook!
Remove when at temperature and remove the chicken to a bowl.
Bring the sauce to a medium heat and add the sour cream. Cook for a few minutes.
Check for salt and pepper.
(After you drain the Noodles add a pinch of salt and 1 Tbls of Butter.)
Reincorporate the chicken and serve with sauce on the Egg Noodles on a platter or on individual plates.
Garnish with freshly chopped Italian Parsley.