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