Pimenton offers the authentic flavour of Spain
Asked to identify the definitive culinary flavour of Spain and many might struggle and offer suggestions like paella or tortilla. Not quite. That elusive taste that influences everything from chorizo through patatas bravas to grilled prawns is pimenton, the smoky, aromatic paprika that is the most evocative taste of Spain.
Pimenton works with everything. Dusted over octopus it completes the Galician national dish; infused with garlic and pork it gives every chorizo that distinctive dark red allure; it colours an Andalucian fish cazuela, livens up an Asturian squid and potato casserole. Some even say that pimenton is the red on the national flag.
The best pimenton comes from the fiercely hot region of Extremadura, where they have been growing peppers since Columbus brought them back from the New World. The region of La Vera is perfect for cultivation of the dark red peppers that are ground into pimenton, in mild, medium and hot varieties.
Cultivation is still a family affair for the most part and the roasting and milling of the peppers still follows the reliable traditional processes. Peppers are roasted carefully over oak to ensure an authentic smokiness. Milling is conducted using stone wheels operated at a steady speed to ensure the pimenton isn’t overheated by friction, which would impair the flavour.
In Murcia in the south a different process operates, with the peppers dried in direct sunlight and steam-treated to stabilise the flavours. This process results in a softer and gentler pimenton, popular with some chefs who are looking for subtler or more delicate flavours.
Pimenton, in various degrees of heat and smokiness, is readily available in the distinctive metal tins of La Vera in Spanish delis and markets across the UK. Those labelled "picante" will be the hot kind. Invest in a tin and bring home a potent reminder of Spain’s culinary heritage.