Paprika remains brightest of spices

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A brightly colored spice, paprika is used for everything from barbecue rubs to garnishing deviled eggs.

After Christopher Columbus took peppers from the New World to Europe, the wealthy residents of Spain used the plants decoratively in their gardens. Cooks of lesser means soon discovered tastier uses, and eventually, peppers were ground into the fine powder we now know as paprika.

Americans Indians used a paprikalike substance for seasoning and healing, but the mild pepper used in paprika was cultivated in Europe. Hungary was ground zero, and Hungarian cuisine demonstrates paprika's power to influence a dish: think goulash, or chicken paprikash.

Many consider Hungarian paprika to be the ultimate, and Hungary's well-earned pride in its product is illustrated by some of the names for various grades: Nobel Sweet, Exquisite Delicate and Pungent Exquisite Delicate.

Hungary has some pretty stiff competition, though. Recently, pimentón, a Spanish paprika made by smoking peppers over oak fires, has set the food world ablaze. Its distinctly smoky taste makes it a great choice for grilled meats, seafood and sauces.

Most paprika is mild, but hotter varieties are available. If you can, buy it in tins rather than bottles; it's pretty delicate stuff, and light diminishes flavor. Oh, and a tidbit for the trivia-obsessed: In the early 1930s, a Hungarian scientist used paprika as the source for vitamin C in his research. In 1937, he took home the Nobel Price for medicine.

BRAISED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH TOMATOES AND SMOKED PAPRIKA

If you can't find smoked Spanish paprika (or pimentón), substitute 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon sweet paprika and e teaspoon cayenne pepper.

8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed

11/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided

Coarsely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 large sweet onions, thinly sliced

2 large carrots, sliced on the bias into 1/2-inch rounds

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 bay leaves

1/4 cup dry sherry

1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimentón)

11/2 teaspoons ground ancho chili powder

1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 (28-ounce) can peeled tomatoes, undrained

Trim excess fat from chicken thighs and season with 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or deep ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken and cook until golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken. Combine onions and carrots in pan. Add remaining salt and sauté about 6 minutes. Add garlic, bay leaves and sherry; cook 2 minutes, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add paprika, chili powder, oregano and cayenne; stir until vegetables are coated with spices.

Set oven to 325 degrees. Add tomatoes (using your fingers to break them up) and cook 2 minutes. Return chicken to pan; cover and bake 21/2 hours.

Serves 4.

-- Recipe by Paula Disbrowe

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 300 calories, 9 grams fat, 31 grams protein, 21 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber and 890 milligrams sodium.

Look for Relish magazine, celebrating America's love of food, on first Wednesdays in The Augusta Chronicle. For more Relish recipes, to sign up for our biweekly newsletter, or to leave a note on our message boards, log on to relishmag.com.


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