Sunday, August 13, 2006

Spice Cabinet: Smoked Paprika

The first in a series of posts exploring my spice cabinet.

Growing up, paprika was a tasteless red powder we sprinkled on top of deviled eggs and all manner of mayonaise-based salads. Once I started cooking on my own, I stopped sprinkling it on those, and didn't pay it much attention otherwise.

Lately, I've started stumbling across a lot of recipes calling for smoked paprika. It seems to be one of the current darlings of the culinary world. And with good reason! All the flavor that was missing from those flavorless red sprinkles from my childhood is contained in this little can.

Whereas the best known regular paprika mostly comes from Hungary, smoked paprika (aka pimentón) comes from Spain. Clotilde at the excellent foodblog Chocolate & Zucchini has written a great history, so I'll just quote a little bit here.

Pimentón is made from pimientos that are grown locally, and then slowly dried over an oakwood fire. The process lasts for ten to fifteen days, during which the peppers are constantly hand-turned, until they are completely dried and infused with smoke flavors. They are then transferred to a manufacture where the stem and seeds are discarded, and the flesh is ground to a super-fine, brick-red powder.

It comes in three varieties - sweet, bittersweet, and hot - although I've only tried the sweet and hot so far. This stuff is amazing. Smoky and fragrant and pungent, with a beautiful color. The hot paprika gave my Cajun rice just the right amount of kick. I've mixed the sweet version with dijon mustard and butter and spread it under the skin of a butterflied chicken cooked on the grill, and it was outstanding. It was a key ingredient in the chorizo butter that I made yesterday, both as an ingredient in the butter and as a flavoring in the chorizo itself.

You can use smoked paprika in any recipe that calls for the regular kind, and I can't see a reason not to. Perhaps I've just never had good Hungarian paprika before (quite likely, in fact), but right now, this is definitely occupying the go-to position in my spice rack!

Spice Encyclopedia link about paprika in general and smoked paprika in particular.

No comments: