If you know the story behind a food or drink you’re about to consume, I believe it tastes better…more enjoyable and interesting. It’s almost as if you can taste the story, and that enhances your sensory experience. Here’s an example:
For me, this is the incredibly delicious, smoked Spanish paprika, pimenton. I’d list it as my current favorite in the spice category. Herbs, like rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley are leaves of plants. Spices on the other hand, are the bark, berries and seeds of plants. In the case of one particular plant, Coriandrum Sativum, cilantro comes from the leaves of the plant and coriander comes from the seeds.The story of pimenton is awesome. Columbus, on one of his voyages to America, encountered a plethora of chiles being grown there. He took them back to Spain and gave some of the seeds to Catholic monarchs at the Jeronimo monastery in the Extremadura region of Spain. This monastery grew the chiles and distributed seeds to other monasteries in Spain. The spice then made its way all over Europe. Jeronimo monastery not only grew the chiles, but the monks developed an extensive process for drying the chiles, smoking them over regional oak wood, and stone grinding them into the powder. They called this ground powder pimenton, and it became a cornerstone of Spanish cuisine… being used in soups, sauces, stews, sausages, there’s even a famous octopus dish that uses the spice.
During one of my trips to Spain while working for WFM, I enjoyed a chicken and rice dish, where pimenton was the predominant spice. Many of my private label products came from Spain, and there I learned that in different categories of food, such as dried beans, Spanish quality represents the very top quality in Europe; whereas France and Italy get most of the press about their impeccable ingredients. I think Spain is overlooked and receives short shrift of the attention. Pimenton even has a D.O., which stands for denomination of origin – a designation primarily used with wine. A denomination of origin requires products/ wines to adhere to certain standards of products in order to use the name. I love that the traditional the fact that pimenton has a D.O., which requires this spice to be created in the traditional, time-honored method. This relates to the drying process, type of wood utilized, grinding equipment, etc. Pimenton cannot even be refined with a modern, metal industrial grinder because it creates too much heat, and robs the spices of its complex flavor.
When I left Spain, I tried to find a chicken pimenton dish online, and I couldn’t find one anywhere at the time. Many cultures combine chicken and rice into a dish. When you cook chicken and rice together, the fats from the chicken drip down onto the rice, making it uber delicious. So, when I couldn’t find a recipe online, I decided to make a chicken, rice and pimenton dish on my own, which for me is always more fun than following a recipe. This weekend, I’m going to cook this dish, which is bone in chicken thighs, cooked on top of rice and vegetables with pimenton stirred into the rice. This spice is also used as a rub overnight on the chicken thighs.
Things to Know:
- The heat level of chiles today is measured on the Scoville scale.
- In the early days of pimenton, they realized that different levels of chiles had different levels of spiciness.
- There are 3 different heat levels of pimento: dulce(sweet), agridulce (medium), picante (hot).
- Pimenton is available in some food stores, but widely available online. The best smoked paprika comes from de la Vera, which is right down the road from the monastery where it all originated.
- The tins of pimenton are beautiful! It is nice to have all three heats on hand, but if you’re going to buy just one, I’d buy the agridulce.