The Company: Chicken Paprikash Recipe

Year Released: 2007
Directed by: Mikael Salomon
Starring: Chris O’Donnell, Alfred Molina, Michael Keaton
(Not Rated, 286 min.)

"There is a point of no return, unremarked at the time, in most lives." Graham Greene

Cloak and Dagger, American style. Forget MI6 and all those British stiff upper lips, and relive the Cold War in all its paranoid brutality through the eyes of three intrepid Yank spymasters.

This classic 2007 television mini-series marries real life legendary spooks to fictional creations, all the while keeping us guessing at the identity of the Russian mole buried deep in our own CIA.

Yes, it’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy all over again, but this one captures the wide range of the American character so often stereotyped in British spy thrillers.

If we do owe the Brits something here, it is that Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland quality that infuses the entire three-part series. Like Alice we plunge down a rabbit hole into a whole new world, chasing not the mysterious white rabbit, but an even more elusive mole, this one buried in the deepest warrens of our espionage underground. It is Through the Looking Glass into a “bewilderment of mirrors,” not just reflecting human nature, but revealing as well, “dark shapes beneath the surface only dimly glimpsed before… depths of duplicity, subzero degrees of cold-bloodedness.” (Ron Rosenbaum)

Alice in all her innocence is young Jack McAuliffe, Chris O’Donnell, bringing that same all-American mixture of square-jawed idealism and kick-ass competence that he now bestows on us in weekly installments on CBS’s NCIS: Los Angeles.

The wonderful Alfred Molina plays his mentor, Harvey Torriti, code name “Sorcerer.” While he has a little of the Mad Hatter’s paranoia – his nose twitches when senses something is wrong -- Sorcerer is mostly Cheshire Cat, trying to teach Jack, a new recruit from Yale, the weird ways of this spy world. Like Alice, Jack is looking for directions:

Then it doesn't matter which way you go,' said the Cat.
`--so long as I get SOMEWHERE,' Alice added as an explanation.
`Oh, you're sure to do that,' said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.'"

"`But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.
`Oh, you can't help that,' said the Cat: `We're all mad here’.

And the Cheshire Cat’s final declaration has a ring of truth in it, especially in regard to James Jesus Angleton, the real life Chief of the CIA’s counter-intelligence section. If this film had been made for the big screen, Michael Keaton would certainly have deserved an Oscar for his portrayal of the eccentric icon. (He did, in fact, receive a 2008 SAG nomination for that role.)

Like Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote Keaton doesn’t just portray the enigmatic Angleton, he becomes him. And if you thought le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had its share of literal and metaphoric smoky rooms, get ready for the full Monty here.

It’s not just the perpetual rings of smoke that encircle Angleton’s head; it’s the particular way he holds his cigarette, cradling it horizontally in his hand almost like Bob Dylan or Arlo Gurthrie holding a harmonica.

Or recall that legendary super sized sleuth, Nero Wolf, as Angleton deduces his best theories of high-level duplicity while he tends his orchids, the hothouse nourishing a flowering paranoia as lovely, fragile, and seductive as the exotic blossoms.

The real life Angleton was a poet as well as a spy master, admiring especially the work of e.e. Cummings and T. S. Eliot. No wonder he saw an certain artistry in the intricacies of deception, even beauty as well, as we see in his on screen dissertation on how the orchid propagates itself through deceit, luring pollinators with false promises of sustenance and even sex.

Yet this counterspy is himself deceived, sheltering one of the 20th century’s most notorious spies, British double agent Adrian Philby (Tom Hollander), under his own patronage. This mole is the same character le Carré calls “Tailor,” played as a charming rogue by Colin Firth in that 2011 release. Here Philby goes by his own name and is more of an aesthete and controlled stutterer than a charmer.

An added bonus of the film is its historical perspective, especially for those of us baby boomers who lived through some of the pivotal events shown. First of all we have 1954’s divided Berlin, where Sorcerer lives above a seedy cinema trying to keep an eye of the Stasi and their Soviet keepers in the KGB.

We also see two low points for America, where timid Presidents as well as leaks to the KGB undermine our insipid support for the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961.

The Cold War and the powers of the CIA wane, but it is the telling end of the Soviet double agents that gives the series’ denouement an elegiac tone reminiscent of the best of epic poetry. Not to mention a sort of poetic justice that would suit Dante himself, who loathed traitors most of all and consigned them to the ultimate ninth circle of hell.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Young CIA operative Jack McAuliffe (Chris O’Donnell) goes to Budapest in 1956 merely to deliver a message from the United States. It is too early for revolution. The United States under President Eisenhower is not ready to commit itself to a full confrontation with the Soviet Union at this time.

But guess what? Revolutions, like other births, are not always ushered in by schedules and finely laid plans. Jack is no longer the liaison here. He is drawn in, in a most uncomfortable way in the form of imprisonment and torture by the ÁVH, the Hungarian Secret Police.

Released by the Hungarian Freedom fighters, he battles alongside them, even as their cause becomes more and more hopeless in the face of Russian tanks and Eisenhower’s denial of help. (I remember to this day my mother’s intense fury at what she and many others saw as a betrayal, since the West and America in particular, had urged the Hungarians to fight their Soviet oppressors.)

Perhaps Jack and his Hungarian friends, particularly the lovely librarian Elizabet, had some time to savor this simple dish, enhanced by Hungarian Paprika, the best of its kind.

Chicken Paprikash

Chicken, onions, butter, stock, paprika, salt, sour cream. That's about it, and all you need for one of the best dishes on the planet, chicken paprikash. Uncomplicated. Unpretentious. So good you'll be drinking the sauce. Cooks up quickly too. Serve it with noodles or dumplings (shown with spaetzle).

We first posted a version of this recipe in 2006 and quickly learned that many people have a family favorite way of making chicken paprikash. The dish is a tradition of Hungary (spelled there "paprikas"), though we are not claiming that our version is traditional. Some people add tomatoes and peppers, some a lot more paprika, or more or less sour cream. Feel free to experiment with amounts to find what works best for your taste. And if you have a favorite way of preparing it, please let us know in the comments.

Chicken Paprikash Recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes

We like cooking chicken skin-on and bone-in, but this recipe will easily work with boneless, skinless chicken pieces as well, if that's what you prefer. Paprika can go flat and tasteless if it is too old. So check your paprika first, before starting this dish.


  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of chicken pieces, preferably thighs and legs
  • Salt
  • 2-3 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 pounds yellow onions, (about 2-3 large onions)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp sweet paprika, preferably Hungarian
  • 1 teaspoon (or to taste), hot paprika or cayenne
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup sour cream


  1. Salt the chicken pieces well and let them sit at room temperature while you cut the onions. Slice the onions lengthwise (top to root).
  2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and melt the butter. When the butter is hot, pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels and place them skin-side down in the pan. Let the chicken pieces cook 4-5 minutes on one side, until well browned, then turn them over and let them cook 2-3 minutes on the other side. (Take care when turning so as not to tear the skin if any is sticking to the pan.) Remove the chicken from the pan to a bowl, set aside.
  3. Add the sliced onions to the sauté pan and cook them, stirring occasionally, scraping up the browned bits from the chicken, until lightly browned, about 7 minutes.
  4. Add the paprika and some black pepper to the onions and stir to combine. Add the chicken broth, again scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, and then nestle the chicken pieces into the pan, on top of the onions. Cover and cook on a low simmer for 20-25 minutes (depending on the size of your chicken pieces). When the chicken is cooked through (at least 165° if you use a thermometer, or if the juices run clear, not pink when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a knife) remove the pan from the heat. (If you want, you can also keep cooking the chicken until it begins to fall off the bone, which may take another 30 minutes or so.)
  5. When the chicken is done to your taste, remove the chicken from the pan. Allow the pan to cool for a minute and then slowly stir in the sour cream and add salt to taste. If the sour cream cools the sauce too much, turn the heat back on just enough to warm it through. Add the chicken back to the pan and coat with the sauce.
    Serve with dumplings, rice, egg noodles or potatoes. (If cooking gluten-free, serve with rice, potatoes or gluten-free noodles or dumplings.)

Yield: Serves 4-6.

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