Paprika is the signature ingredient in the traditional Hungarian dish of goulash, is it not? Let us therefore consider how that tradition came about, given that the Capsicum family originated in the New World, and was completely unknown in Europe before the Spanish conquest of the Americas in the early decades of the sixteenth century. The Spanish seem to have enthusiastically adopted the pimentón, as they refer to paprika, within a short time of their discovery of the fruit on the cusp of the sixteenth century, but it was quite some time before it became a star ingredient in Hungarian cuisine.
The Oxford English Dictionary says that paprika “is said to have been brought to Hungary by the Turks in the 16th cent., and was at first known in Hungarian as Török-bors Turkish pepper. The name paprika first appeared in a book on Hungarian medicinal herbs published in 1775.” So, it appears that the spice was not used in any significant culinary context in Hungary until the late eighteenth century. So much for the ‘traditional’ Hungarian recipe for paprika-enhanced goulash!
The word ‘paprika’ in the English language now most often refers to the dried and powdered fruit of Capsicum annuum. Interestingly however, initially it more commonly referred to a dish (commonly soup) “flavoured or coloured with the sweet (usually red) pepper, either fresh or in dried and powdered form.”
Here is an interesting snippet from the London St James Gazette: An Evening Review And Record Of News of August 3, 1889 which gives some historical perspective on the use of paprika in Britain, and also provides our recipe for the day:-
There are many strange meats, and more strange ways of cooking meats familiar, which well deserve to be known in Europe (says the Saturday Review). Europe itself, indeed, can supply local dishes as odd in flavour and as delicious – to those who like them – as any to be found in Asia or Africa. Above all stands the national dish of the Magyar, unless it be, as the Croats declare, the national dish of the Serb – paprika hühn. This is one of the very few among so many that have struck us in a roving live, of which we secured the recipe. Since the reader would look for it in vain among English or North-German cookery-books, we transcribe the directions:-
“Cut two onions fine. Put them in a saucepan with the same quantity of lard, and turn on the fire till they become yellow. Add a teaspoonful of paprika (red pepper) and three teaspoonfuls of flour. Cut two fowls into quarters. Put them into the saucepan, with the livers and the trail. Salt. Cover the whole with cream. Close the saucepan tight, and let it simmer till the fowls be done.”
Not more difficult than that! – but we undertake to say, upon the testimony of many friends, that those to whom the quaint and delicate flavour is agreeable will be enthusiastic in their gratitude. Any red pepper will do, but the Viennese or Pest manufacture is far best. Another impressive dish of Europe – so impressive and warmly appreciated generally at first that strangers grow to hate it in a short time – is the Russian manner of cooking starlet – very good indeed, however, as we can avouch, when applied to the British eel. They have a way of cooking beefsteaks in Roumania, with a singular arrangement of potatoes and raw cabbage sliced, which recurs to our memory with longing.