How to Use Piment d'Espelette

Here’s what to do with Piment d’Espelette—one of my all-time favorite French spices.

Great in pasta. And just about everything else.

Piment d’Espelette is great in pasta and may other dishes. Scroll down for a link to this easy recipe.

Ever since I traveled to the Pays Basque (the French Basque country) in the spring of 1997, I’ve been intrigued by Piment d’Espelette. I’ve heard tell that Basque cooks use this vivid spice the way the rest of the world uses black pepper—that is, they put it on everything. More and more, I’m doing the same—and below, I’ll show you some of my favorite ways to use this spice. But first, a primer:

What Is Piment d’Espelette?

This spice is made by grinding a very specific variety of piment (a chile pepper) grown in and around the commune of Espelette, in the Basque region of France. Here’s an imbedded GoogleMap that shows you where Espelette is, in the Western Pyrenées  in Southwestern, France.

 

Funny thing is, the piment itself is not native to France; instead, it was brought back from Mexico and South America during the 16th century; but, it seems, it grew well here, and the Basques knew a good thing when they tasted it.

Piment d'Espelette drying in the Basque Country, France. Photo credit: Photothèque Piment d’Espelette AOC

Piment d’Espelette drying in the Basque Country, France. Photo credit: Photothèque Piment d’Espelette AOC

What Does Piment d’Espelette Taste Like?

If you’re the type who loves to brag about how hot you like your chiles, go get your kicks somewhere else. In terms of spice level, these aren’t blazing hotties by any means. Rather, they bring vivid flavor, but a more easygoing heat, as well as an intriguing fruity angle (let’s not forget that chile peppers are fruits, after all).

Perhaps the best description I’ve seen of it was at BonAppétit.com; their Test Kitchen pros identified the flavor as somewhat peach-like, with sea-brine qualities and a “nuanced, subtle heat”).

Nuanced? Subtle? Indeed—no wonder the French like it.

How Do I Cook with Piment d’Espelette?

Frankly, I have it on my counter all the time, next to the salt and pepper. Every time I think something I cook could use a little spice and color, I add it and often instead of black pepper. Twice-baked potatoes. Deviled eggs. Scrambled eggs. Omelets. Making shepherd’s pie? Sprinkle some on the potatoes. Serving a “naked” pasta (that is, with just olive oil or butter)? Throw in a pinch. Soups, salad dressings, cream sauces. Yes. Yes. Yes. Add it to tartar sauce. Sprinkle it on fish before grilling. Sprinkle it on vegetables before roasting (I especially love it on roasted cauliflower).

Believe me—keep it by your cooktop, and you’ll be using it all the time. And loving it.

What about beef? Keep in mind that Piment d’Espelette is generally better on more delicate foods (fish, seafood, eggs, chicken, vegetables). Though exceptions might exist, I wouldn’t use it for flavoring big, bold beef dishes; its nuance might be lost.  And I certainly would not use it as a rub. There are better spices for that.

Got Any Easy Recipes That Use Piment d’Espelette?

Of course I do. All over the place. Here are some links to my faves:

Use Piment d’Espelettein my Easy Recipe for Pipérade: This dish is to the Basque country what Ratatouille is to Provence. The nicely saucy dish of tomatoes, onions, and green and red bell peppers, is a great go-with to eggs (fried, scrambled, poached, omelets, baked, etc.), fish, ham, chicken, and other dishes. Here’s a recipe, plus serving suggestions.

One of the many ways to serve Pipérade: With a French Rolled Omelet

Piment d’Espelette is the hallmark ingredient of Pipérade, which goes splendidly with a French rolled omelet.

 

Use Piment d’Espelette in American “French” Dressing: You know that orange dressing that American restaurants call “French” dressing? Well, if you make it from scratch, and you use Piment d’Espelette, it’s really kind of an amazing thing. Especially on a spinach salad (with eggs and bacon and green onions. Mmmm!). Here’s my recipe.

Use it in American "French" dressing to remember how great this dressing can be.

Use it in American “French” dressing to remember how great this dressing can be.

 

Use Piment d’Espelette in my Easy Recipe for Basque-Style Chicken: This is basically braised chicken with a pipérade-style sauce. It also has a bonus of prosciutto for extra flavor; that meat is right in line with Basque cooking, as Jambon de Bayonne—a French prosciutto—is made in the region. Here’s the recipe for Basque Chicken.

Use Piment d’Espelette in Deviled Eggs or Oeufs Dur Mayonnaise (Oeufs-Mayo): See the eggs in the recipe below? I draped them with a flavored-up mayo, and finished with a little piment d’Espelette. The spice is also a great finishing touch to Deviled Eggs. (PS: Here are my favorite ways to serve Oeufs-Mayo).

Note the little sprinkles of piment d'Espelette on the deviled eggs.

Note the little sprinkles of piment d’Espelette on the mayo-dressed eggs.

Use Piment d’Espelette in my Easy French Canapés. Start with Trader Joe’s Original Savory Thins (or your favorite cracker). Top them with a semisoft to semifirm cheese (Brie, Camembert, Taleggio, Cheddar, Morbier, etc.); run them under the broiler just until the cheese oozes a bit, then top with chopped olives and some piment d’Espelette.

My Happy Hour Crackers. So easy, and Piment d'Espelette is the je ne sais quoi of the dish.

My Happy Hour Crackers. So easy, and Piment d’Espelette is the je ne sais quoi of the dish.

 

Use Piment d’Espelette to spice pasta dishes. I especially like using the spice when it’s going to be an olive oil or butter-based pasta dish, as in this.

Pasta with Piment d'Espelette. Love this. It's a great side dish, but if you're hungry and want a quick dinner, it works as a main dish, too.

Pasta with Piment d’Espelette. Love this. It’s a great side dish, but if you’re hungry and want a quick dinner, it works as a main dish, too. Find my recipe Richard Nahem’s fabulous Eye Prefer Paris site:

Believe me, there are many other ways to use this great spice. I suggest you get your hands on some.

Look for it at a well-stocked spice shop, or, find it online at Amazon.com. See link, below.


Piment d’Espelette – Red Chili Pepper Powder from France 1.06oz

Disclaimer: As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a very small credit when you make a purchase through a link I provide (even if you don’t buy exactly what I’m writing about!). Purchasing through one of my links helps support my work on this blog. Keep in mind, I’d never recommend a product I didn’t love–and I truly love Piment d’Espelette! Thanks so much.

PS: Feel free to share your favorite way with Piment d’Espelette in the comments below. Or on my Facebook page.

 

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Tell Me What You Love about Paris...for a Chance to Win the New Eyewitness Travel Guide

Paris GuideI was sent a review copy of the 2015 DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Paris, and also given the opportunity to give a copy away on this blog. Whether or not a trip to Paris is in your immediate future, you might as well enter: It’s a great book—whether you’re truly traveling or just armchair traveling.

I judge a travel guide to France through three criteria:

1. The Restaurants: First, I look at the restaurants. If it includes at least three of my favorites, then I’ll know the place is in line with my tastes. And of course, I want them to suggest all kinds of restaurants I haven’t heard of, too.

2. The Background Info: Next, the guide must teach me something new. I want to glean something about the city that I didn’t know—perhaps it’s something historical. Or cultural. Or simply something useful.

3. The Inspiration: Finally, I want the guidebook to nudge me to do something I’ve never done before–to get me out of my Musée d’Orsay, Tuileries, Jardins du Luxembourg, Galleries Lafayette, Père Lachaise, Igor Stravinsky Fountain, Ste. Chapelle rut.

The Report:

I’m happy to say that the 2015 DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Paris accomplishes all three—and with aplomb. I was thrilled to see Chartier, Le Baron Rouge, and Brasserie Bofinger in the mix of restaurants. They’re classics I’ll return to again and again. But I also loved scanning the other selections (along with quite a few photos) and am now especially intrigued by L’Ami Jean, a “lively” Basque bistro with “…an avant garde spin on Basque cooking with dishes such as lamb sweetbreads with paper-thin chorizo.”

In the education category, I like the way each major historical period was represented by a spread with photos and little nuggets of history. I can imagine reading this spread as I sit at a café on the Place de la Bastille. There’s just enough info to intrigue, but not so much minutiae to slog through that you lose the pleasures of sitting in a café on the Place de la Bastille.

This spread tells of the Revolution. I like the idea of reading it while sipping wine in a cafe in the Place de la Bastille.

This spread tells of the Revolution. I like the idea of reading it while sipping wine in a cafe in the Place de la Bastille. In all, there are 1,000 photos in this book.

Also in the “I didn’t know that!” category: French bilingual police officers sport badges that identify the foreign languages they speak. How helpful!

Finally, in the “nudge me to do something new” category: Next time I go, I’m doing the 90-Minute Walk along the Canal St-Martin. It sounds like my kind of Paris, redolent of “the older surviving landmarks of the neighborhood—the factories, the warehouses, dwellings, taverns, and cafes—[that] hint at life in a thriving 19th-century working-class world.”

Lest that sound dour, the walk also reveals the Canal’s “gentler charms of the old iron footbridges, the tree-lined quays….the river barges, and the still waters of the broad canal basins.”

Why haven’t I ever done this?

Of course, I’m sure I’ve missed many things on my many trips. Perhaps you have too. So, to help each other find new reasons to fall in love with Paris, let’s all share something we love.

It doesn’t have to be the thing you love most (I, for one, could never say what I loved most about Paris!). In fact, it doesn’t have to be a thing at all—maybe it’s not a site or a restaurant that compels you. Maybe it’s simply the way that that sometimes the weight of history surrounding you can make you feel melancholy—but in a beautiful, meaningful way.

So, tell me something you love about Paris. Anything. A place, a restaurant, a street, a hotel, a state of mind. Anything. And you’ll be entered to win a free copy of the 2015 DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to Paris (Retail Value: $25).

Tell me in the comments section below. Or on my Facebook page.

The Fine Print: US Address only. Entries must be posted below or on my Facebook page by Sunday, March 15 at midnight. The winner will be chosen through a random number generator. DK Books supplied me with a review copy, and they are also sending out the winning copy. I have not been compensated in any other way.

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Hungarian Goulash--In Your Braiser, of Course

Here’s an easy recipe for Hungarian Goulash–made with boneless beef short ribs for extra succulence. (PS: This is a great Goulash recipe for your braiser.).

My easy recipe for Hungarian Goulash, made in my braiser.

My easy recipe for Hungarian Goulash, made in the Le Creuset Braiser.

I wonder how many people grew up thinking that Goulash looked something like this:

This isn't Goulash, but I grew up thinking it was. If you want a recipe for this style of "Goulash," you'll do no better than the bhg.com recipe for Chili-Mac Skillet.

This isn’t Goulash, but I grew up thinking it was. If you want a recipe for this style of “Goulash,” you’ll do no better than this bhg.com recipe for Chili-Mac Skillet.

Indeed, for many of us, “Goulash” was a dish of ground beef in a saucy tomato mixture with macaroni, onions, green pepper (maybe) and maybe a little spice.

Me. Brooklyn Heights. Back in the day. I love my vintage coat. Wore it for years and years.

Me. Brooklyn Heights. Back in the day. I love my vintage coat. Wore it for years and years.

Of course, most food-lovers know better now. But I didn’t until I was 23 and living in Brooklyn Heights. For our first Valentine’s Day in New York, Dave and I went to a Hungarian restaurant on Montague Street, near the famed Brooklyn Promenade. It was a cute spot with tall tapered candles glowing atop lace tablecloths on the parlor level (the second floor) of a brownstone storefront; we got a table looking out out over the snow falling on the busy street. I remember dinner cost us $25 (for both of us!), which seemed like a lot at the time (yes–those were the days!). I fear the locale has long since morphed into a Banana Republic store. Sigh.

We ordered Goulash, and because I knew I was a long way from Kansas (so to speak), I figured it wasn’t going to be the homey ground-beef dish of my Midwestern past. And yet, I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love this Old World version. What came to the table was a wonderful, meltingly tender beef stew, deeply spiced with paprika, and served with thick, broad noodles. It was warming, cozy, and romantic–the perfect thing for a cold winter night.

After that, I made Hungarian Goulash over the years, but I could never quite get it right. While the flavors were good, the meat itself always came up short in the tenderness category and way too dry (where was the succulence I’d experienced in Brooklyn?). Beef stew meat just never did the trick.

Boneless beef short ribs. The key to the best goulash ever. Photo courtesy of Beef: It's What's for Dinner

Boneless beef short ribs. They come from the chuck (shoulder), like most stew meat–but they’re better than most stew meat. Photo courtesy of the beef council.

Then other day, I found myself with about 2 pounds of boneless short ribs left over from a Boeuf Bourguignon cooking class I gave. Suddenly, the light bulb went off: Short ribs would make a great Hungarian Goulash. I set to work, and came up with this recipe.

Of course, I used my braiser (though you can use a deep, oven-going skillet or Dutch oven). The other trick was that I rubbed the short ribs with salt, pepper, and paprika so that the meat would get unmistakably seasoned. I also added paprika to the dish itself. And—oh yes—I used smoked paprika. I just loved the added boldness it gave. But you can use sweet or hot paprika, depending on your tastes.

When Dave came home for dinner and asked what smelled so good, I told him it was Goulash.

“Oh,” he said. “Remember that Valentine’s Day dinner we had on Montague street….?”

Indeed. There are some meals you never forget. I hope this one becomes memorable for you.

photo-2

 

5.0 from 1 reviews
Easy Hungarian Goulash--In Your Braiser, of Course
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 servings
 
I love smoked paprika in this dish, but you can use Hungarian paprika, hot or mild. You can also use Spanish paprika, if that's what you have on hand.
Ingredients
  • 2 pounds boneless beef short ribs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika, divided
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped (about 1½ cups)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup low-sodium beef broth
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rub the short ribs all over with the salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of the paprika. Cut the short ribs into 1- to 2-inch pieces.
  2. Heat the oil over medium-high in a 3- to 4-quart braiser (or use a deep, oven-going skillet or a Dutch oven). Cook the beef in the hot oil until brown on all sides. Remove the beef from the pan and drain off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium; add the onion to the pan and cook until tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until the fragrance is released.
  4. Add the beef broth, tomato paste, and the remaining 1 tablespoon paprika to the skillet, stirring to combine and to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return the meat to the pan. Bring mixture to boiling.
  5. Cover the pan and slide it into the oven. Bake for 1 hour, 45 minutes to 2 hours, or until meat is tender. Stir before serving.
  6. Serve with parsleyed noodles, pureed potatoes, spaetzle, or soft polenta.

 

 

 

 

 

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