Hortobágyi Palacsintak (Pancakes Stuffed with Meat Stew)
Now that I have my new camera, I figure I should post older recipes that have been sitting in my drafts folder with photos taken with the old camera, just to get them out of the way. This is one of the first meals I made after returning from Hungary this past summer.
Pancakes were the first things I learned to cook as a child, watching my grandmother carefully swirl the batter around the pan to the create the perfect coating, waiting for the bubbles to indicate that it was time to flip them. I filled them with jam and sour cream, or the mix of cottage cheese, cinnamon, and sugar that my grandmother insisted was the way she used to do it back home.
In my world, pancakes are always palacsinta (pronounced pah-lah-chin-tah; in Hungarian, they are pluralized with a -k suffix, but we always used the singular as a mass noun). Palacsinta are basically Hungarian crepes, filled with whatever you please and rolled up into a long tube. Growing up, I only ever had thick, fluffy American pancakes at diners and friends’ houses.
When we got to Hungary, we found that palacsinta were only eaten as dessert. The Tarpa hotel cook thought we were insane, the way my family kept ordering palacsinta for breakfast.
The exception to the dessert rule is found in Hortobágyi palacsinta, where pancakes are filled with a meat stew and served with a sauce made with paprika and sour cream.
What I have for you here is one recipe for a variant of the stew that fills the Hortobágyi palacsinta and the sauce paired with it, and a recipe for the palacsinta themselves. The same palacsinta are used for breakfast, dinner, and dessert. They are delicious and versatile. They are what brought me into the kitchen in the first place.
Palacsinta (recipe below)
1 1/2 lbs. chicken breast, finely chopped
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 C sour cream
1/4 C flour
1 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika (for the sauce)
Sweet Hungarian paprika to taste (for the filling)
Salt to taste
Brown the onions in the oil, then add the chicken and salt and saute for about 5 minutes. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Remove most of the liquid and reserve.
Stir in 2 tbsp sour cream and paprika to taste (I really do just add it until the food looks red enough). Simmer for about half an hour.
Fill the palacsinta with the filling and roll as described in the first method here.
Return the reserved liquid to the now emptied pan, and mix in the remaining sour cream, paprika, and flour. Bring to a simmer. Pour over the filled palacsinta and serve immediately.
1 C milk
1 C all-purpose flour
A pinch of salt
A splash of seltzer or ginger ale
Butter for frying
Blend or whisk together all ingredients except the seltzer until you have a homogenous batter. Add a splash of seltzer or, if you prefer, ginger ale, until the batter reaches your desired consistency. A thinner batter means that it is easier to create very thin and delicate pancakes, but may be harder for them to retain structural integrity. I suggest thinning the batter more as you grow more confident in your ability to maneuver the pancakes.
You want a light pan, a pan you can easily lift and move around with one hand. I keep the batter in a blender with a good spout, and a stick of butter with the wrapper pulled back halfway in a small bowl near the stove.
Heat the pan, then just run the butter stick across it to coat it with sizzling butter. Coat the sides as well as the bottom. Hold the pan away from the stove, and pour in a dollop of batter – how much will depend on how well and how quickly you can move the pan. You want to start swirling the batter around in the pan immediately, before it has time to cook and set.
The motion is all in the wrist. You want to keep the pan moving in a sort of circular motion so that the batter runs around that central dollop in a spiral, creating the [connected] concentric rings of an ever-widening circle. This gets much easier with practice. Once that’s done, return the pan to the heat.
As soon as the pancake looks entirely dry, it is ready to be flipped. After the pancake is flipped, it is just a few moments before it is completely done – wait to see the surface begin to bubble, then flip it out of the pan and onto the plate.
Do butter the pan before each and every pancake. It is not healthy, but you can really tell the difference in flavor.