Let’s all go for broke and throw away our paprika. After all, it’s probably so old that the only thing you taste is the color red. That’s a shame, given how incredibly good good paprika can be, especially if it’s pimenton.
What’s the difference? Well, paprika typically comes from Hungary, California, South America, or Spain. It is made by grinding aromatic, sweet red pepper pods into a fine powder. When fresh, the flavor can range from mild to hot; the color can be anything from orange to deep, dark red.
Pimenton, on the other hand, is a paprika that is unique to Spain. Perhaps that’s what makes Chef Varin so enamored with the spice, but more likely it’s the spice itself. Pimenton is made out of peppers that have been slowly dried and smoked over live oak fires. This gives it a rich, smoky quality, regardless of whether the style is sweet and mild (dulce), bittersweet and medium-hot (agridulce), or full on hot (picante.)
At Heartwood Provisions the pimenton we use comes from a town west of Madrid called La Vera, in the region Extremadura, although it’s not just the source of the spice that makes our paprika program so special.
Chef Varin: It’s not that I think we are using pimenton differently than other Seattle restaurants, it’s just the fact that we are using it at all that I find special. I hardly see any places around town using pimenton.
We put pimenton in oils, vinaigrettes, sauces, sorbet, and spice mixes. Its smoky flavor and sweetness adds a lot of depth to the dishes we make. I’m not building entire dishes around it—thinking ‘what can I use pimenton in now?’—so much as I’ll consider adding it when I’m creating a dish and, after a taste, think ‘that could use some smokiness.’ It is something I grab when I think it could make a dish taste better.
I am yearning to make a pimenton caramel for something someday. I don’t know what yet, but the idea is percolating in the back of my mind. For now, though, I’ll stick to infusing spicy pimenton with arbequina olive oil to make an aromatic oil, which we use in our cauliflower pasta dish.
8 oz Arbequina olive oil
1 Tbl Spicy Pimento
1 Tbl Minced Garlic
2 Tbl Minced Shallot
Place all ingredients in a saucepan. Cook on medium heat until shallots and garlic sizzle lightly. Turn heat down to very low. Let infuse for an hour or so. Strain oil. Drizzle over anything you like—pasta, pizza, salad, bread, etc.