Pimenton de la Vera, smoked paprika from Extremadura in western Spain, is the defining spice of Spain. Whether mild, medium, or hot, it provides that intriguing element of pepper plus smoke. It is used to flavour everything from pulpo a la gallega (a Galician dish of steamed octopus) to escabeches (a kind of lightly pickled fish) to fresh and cured sausages like Spanish Chorizo.
When Ferdinand and Isabella in the monastery of Guadalupe received Christopher Columbus at the completion of his second voyage to America, they were astonished when he presented them with peppers from the New World. The flavour of the peppers took their breath away, but that did not stop the monks from cultivating them and soon the peppers spread throughout Extremadura.
But it was not until the 17th century that pimentón, the milled powder from these pepper, began its general inclusion in Spanish cuisine.
Today the finest paprika powder in Spain is made close to the original monastery garden in the fertile alluvial soils around the Tietar River in La Vera where the climate is mild and the rain is plentiful. Here the farmers cultivate different varieties of the paprika genus Capiscum annum, each with varying degrees of pungency.
The harvest begins in the fall where entire families go out into the fields to harvest the little peppers and place them in drying houses where they are smoke-dried with oakwood. No other wood may be used if the genuine Pimentón de la Vera is to have its typical taste. The farmer has to go into the smoking house every day for two weeks to turn over the layer of peppers by hand.
Finally the peppers are milled by electrically powered stone wheels which must turn very slowly since friction heat affects the color and flavour.
It comes in three varieties: sweet and mild (dulce); bittersweet medium hot (agridulce) and hot (picante) and normally keeps for two years.
The precious powder is indispensable, for many types of Spanish sausage such as chorizo and lomo pork loin. It adds the absolutely perfect taste of authenticity to paellas. It crosses into regular American cuisine as a seasoning for barbecue pork, rich beef and lamb stews, kebabs and even deviled eggs!
Pimentón de la Vera is unique. Although it is not generally available, even in many gourmet shops, there is no substitute for use in authentic Spanish cooking. In South Africa you can buy Pimenton at yuppiechef.
Tiempo de cocción! Which means, “Cooking Time” in Spanish.