Paprika Hendl, or, Dracula and the Morality of Hunger

As an English teacher, I read many books over and over again in my classroom.  I find that I can categorize all the literature I teach in my classroom into these groupings:

  1. The literature that breaks down and reveals itself as paper-thin trash after a few readings.*
  2. The literature that unfolds layer after layer of richness with each reading.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the good ones, one of those books of such complexity that I learn new things each time I encounter the text.  Just one example of this is the way Bram Stoker writes about food.  Take this little gem from the first few pages of Jonathan Harker’s journal:

We left in pretty good time, and  came after nightfall to Klausenburgh.  Here I stopped for the night at the Hotel Royale.  I have for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up in some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem., get recipe for Mina.)  I asked the waiter, and he said it was called “paprika hendl,” and that, as it was a national dish, I should be able to get it anywhere along the Carpathians.

I am by no means the first reader of Dracula who became hungry for paprika hendl.  Others have tread this ground before me, the best of these being this guy.  As Mr. Tasunka Witko pointed out back in 2010, the word “hendl” is not Romanian.  It’s the Austro-Bavarian word for chicken.  The German language was brought to Dracula’s backyard by the Transylvanian Saxons in the 12th century.

 

Leonard Wolf gives an account of a recipe for Paprika Hendl in his Annotated Dracula:

Well then, reader, if ever you travel in Hungary, and want a dinner or supper quickly, never mind the variety of dishes your host names, but fix at once on paprika hendl.  Two minutes afterwards, you will hear signs of a revolution in the basse cur; the cocks and hens are in alarm; one or two of the largest, and probably oldest member of their unfortunate little community, are seized their necks wrung, and while yet fluttering, immersed in boiling water.  Their coats and skins come off at once; a few unmentionable preparatory operations are rapidly despatched- probably under the traveler’s immediate observation- the wretches are cut into pieces, thrown into a pot, with water, butter, flour, cream, and an inordinate quantity of red pepper,or paprika, and, very shortly after, a number of bits of fowl are seen swimming in a dish of hot greasy gravy, quite delightful to think of.

 

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Here is my rendition.  This recipe fed six people happily.

 

 

Paprika Hendl

 

You will need:

  • 1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds)
  • 6 or so chicken thighs or legs
  • 4 ripe tomatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 9 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 3/4 cup Sweet Hungarian Paprika
  • 4-5 tablespoons of butter
  • a few tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • An entire 24 ounce container of full-fat sour cream
  • salt
  • black pepper

Butcher the chicken. **  Keep the skin on.  Place the butchered chicken and the chicken thighs in a stock pot, and cover with cold water.  Bring the water to a boil, then lower the temperature on the stove to medium-low.  You want the liquid to be simmering.  Remove the white foam and scum from the top of the stock periodically as it escapes from the chicken.  Simmer until the chicken is done, about 1.5-2 hours.

Meanwhile, juice your tomatoes, carrots, and celery.  If you have a jalapeno or two laying around, throw it on in.  If you aren’t blessed with a juicer, you can substitute 6 cups of V8 or canned tomato juice.

When the chicken is done, remove it from the stock.  Reserve the stock for another delicious day, and heat up the peanut oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot.  Brown the skin of the chicken on medium-high heat.  Set the chicken aside.

To make the sauce, add the butter to Dutch oven and saute the diced onions on medium heat until they begin to carmelize.  Lower the heat to medium low, and add the crushed garlic.  After 2-4 minutes, add ALL OF THE PAPRIKA and stir for 60 seconds or so.  Stir in the tomato juice, and bring the heat back up to medium high.  Put the chicken back in the pot, and simmer for 30-45 minutes.

Stir the flour into ALL OF THE SOUR CREAM.  Remove the chicken from the pot, remove the sauce from the heat, and stir in the sour cream.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and put the chicken back in the pot.  Serve with crusty bread, roasted or mashed potatoes, or spaetzle.  Also, an Oregon Pinot Noir wouldn’t go amiss.

 


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This is a delicious recipe, and if you poke around on google for a little while, you find other Dracula readers singing its praises.  Every once in a while, one of them will speculate about the reason for the existence of the recipe in the book.  For example, one of  Mr. Tasunka Witko’s commentators said, “…it would be interesting to know where that little excerpt came from and how it ended up in the book…”

Allow me, gentlemen.

I’m pretty sure that Bram Stoker unearthed the recipe during one of his marathon sessions researching at the British Museum.  Incidentally, the doors of the British Library are still open to today’s writers and searchers.  As for how it ended up in the book?  Well, Bram Stoker put it there.  Facts and details don’t just drift down from the heavens and insert themselves into text.  An author needs to consciously place these details into the text that he is crafting.  A more interesting question is this:  Why did Bram Stoker feel the need to include recipes in Dracula?

 

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Important, I think, is the fact that paprika hendl is bright red.  Blood red, in fact.  Also important is Stoker’s bizarre use of the word “thirsty” in the text.  According to the syntax, it is the chicken that is thirsty.  However, it seems that Jonathan means that eating the chicken made him thirsty.  All this happens before Dracula is introduced to the reader.  Stoker is drawing a parallel here between Jonathan and Dracula.  They are both carnivorous.***  Both Jonathan and Dracula consume once alive flesh to maintain their own existences.   As I’ve reread Dracula with my students this year, I’ve been trying to figure out what Stoker’s endgame is.  Is he saying that there is some kind of invisible line that separates ethical consumption like Jonathan’s from unethical consumption like Dracula’s?  Or is he saying that there is no such thing as ethical consumption?  Is Harker the same as Dracula?  The description of the chicken slaughter cited by Leonard Wolf above is at least as violent as Dracula’s most intense bloodsucking episodes.

Regardless, the effect of this parallel on the reader is that the sharp delineation between what makes a villain and what makes a hero begins to dissolve and become blurry around the edges. As Dracula becomes more understandable, Jonathan becomes more villainous.  And we become more villainous, too.  We kill what we eat.

Something to think about as you enjoy your delicious paprika hendl.  Personally, I’m more comfortable embracing Dracula as a kindred spirit than becoming a vegetarian.  But that’s just me.  Because I, too, am a predator.

 

 

 

*Don’t ever ask me about John Steinbeck unless you feel like being the victim of an overly-emotional rant.  No one should carry around within herself the amount of vitriolic contempt that I feel for The Pearl.  And my hatred grows with every reading.

** Fun fact: the word “butcher” can refer to slaughtering an animal, as Leonard Wolf points out above.  It can also refer to chopping the chicken into manageably eatable parts.  Here’s a photo-tutorial if you need some help.

***They are also both remarkably pushy to the ladies in their lives and afterlives.  Mem. make your own damn chicken, Jonathan.