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Around the world, Hungarian food is closely identified with bright-red paprika. Hungary's two most famous dishes, gulyás leves (goulash soup) and csirke paprikás (chicken paprikash), are brought to life with the rich, red spice. However, the peppers ground to make fragrant paprika—so closely associated with Hungarian cuisine—were only introduced to the country in the middle of the 19th century. Fame was assured, though, when in 1879 Auguste Escoffier brought the ground red powder from Szeged to the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo and introduced it as a Hungarian spice. From that point on, paprika has been a vital ingredient to the national cuisine. It comes in many forms, from light and sweet to bold and fiery. Many Hungarian dishes, such as chicken paprikash, begin with paprika mixed with oil, onions, and flour, making a roux. Meat is cooked with the paprika roux and then mixed with cream to give the dish its light color and rich depth. Other dishes like goulash soup are flavored with paprika at the beginning of the cooking cycle and simmered over low heat for hours. While its rich flavor is only released in hot oil, many a Hungarian néni (great aunt) will warn novice chefs to use paprika judiciously. Removing the pan from heat when adding the delicate spice prevents paprika from burning and turning bitter.
Paprika is available in all Hungarian supermarkets. The varieties include különleges (special), the highest-quality version, which has a pleasantly spicy aroma and is very finely ground; édes (sweet), which has a rich color, mild aroma, and is somewhat coarsely ground; csipős (hot), which is light brown with yellowish tones, has a fiery flavor, and is coarsely ground; rózsa (rose), bright red in color, medium spicy, and medium-ground; and csemege (mild), which is light red in color, has a rich aroma, and is medium-ground.
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