How to Use Piment d'Espelette

Here’s what to do with Piment d’Espelette—one of my all-time favorite French spices.
UPDATE: Since writing this post, I’ve discovered Piment d’Ville, a fabulous California-made version of Piment d’Espelette. You can use Piment d’Ville wherever I call for Piment d’Espelette. Read my review of Piment d’Ville.

 

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

OR: Try Piment d’Ville, a great version from California:

 

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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19 comments to How to Use Piment d’Espelette

  • I will order this. I am always looking for anything to enhance depth of flavor. This sounds like something to add to my “toolbox”.

    • Wini

      Thanks, Madonna. After I wrote this, I keep thinking of other ways to use it. Tonight, I’m serving roasted cauliflower, and I think it will go splendidly on that as well!

  • Aww… thanks for opening my eyes, I didn’t know I needed to try this so much! 😉

  • […] For more ways to use Piment d’Espelette, check out my recent blog post, How to Use Piment d’Espelette. […]

  • Lisa Werth

    As a result of your kale chip post, I tried the Piment d”Espelette Thursday and it was very good. Friday, I put it on scrambled egg whites and it was delicious. Today, I sprinkled just a little on sautéed spinach and it was amazing! Thank you, thank you!

    • Wini

      You can say that again! 🙂

      Truly–thanks for letting me know, and sorry for the late reply…I’m traveling right now, having just landed in Montpellier, FR, after driving here from the Côte d’Azur (meant to take the train, but alas, TRAIN STRIKES. Sigh).

      Merci et a bientot.

      • Lisa Werth

        Enjoy your trip! Sorry about the double posting. I tried to delete the second one but couldn’t. I hope the strikes and the rain both end!

  • Lisa Werth

    As a result of your kale chip post, I tried the Piment d”Espelette Thursday and it was very good. Friday, I put it on scrambled egg whites and it was delicious. Last night, I sprinkled just a little on sautéed spinach and it was amazing! Thank you, thank you!

    • Wini

      I’m so glad! And thanks for taking the time to let me know how much you liked it.

      I really love that stuff! I use it all the time. Once you’ve bought some, you’ll find all kinds of uses for it.

  • Jack Talley

    I received 10 AOC seeds and got 60% germination. They’re about 18 inches tall and look very healthy now. I’m hopeful I can get a good crop to share both peppers and seeds for next year. In order to grind them, after drying, do you use a coffee bean grinder and leave the seeds in? So, they look like a little more finely ground cracked red pepper? Thanks.

  • Kendra

    You’re so right! I use it on everything!! Check out the farmers growing espelette in Boonville, California http://www.pimentdville.com

    • Wini

      That’s so cool!

      And I’m not one to say that you can’t possibly grow Piment d’Espelette outside of the Espelette region. Even though the Basques have given it name-controlled status–meaning you can’t call it Piment d’Espelette if it’s not from Espelette–I’m sure someone in North America could produce an equally good product. That’s because the piments that the Basques fell in love with and cultivate are actually from the New World, introduced to them by explorers.

      So glad to see that someone is making this fabulous spice closer to home.

  • Thanks for writing back, Wini! I agree that the name-controlled aspect is a complicated part of piment d’espelette, but being from a wine growing region, I actually totally understand and respect that practice. It does make it hard to classify varieties of pepper, and kinds of wine, but the place a thing comes from is important and especially with farming–a different region and climate will make a product somehow different, especially over years of saving seeds. In respect of the AOC on Piment d’Espelette, we call what we grow Piment d’Ville to highlight our own growing region: Boonville, CA. We also vintage date it, like wine, so you can know you hve the 2014 crop vs the 2015 crop, for example. I would love to send you some samples to try out! My email is kendra at signalridge.com and if you send me your shipping address I will have some headed your way! Also, check out this great video we made for our distributor, the Chefs Warehouse, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vx_WSgSqfnc

  • Wini

    What a THRILL! I love that video. I can’t wait to tell people about it.

    I’ll email you separately, but thanks for getting in touch.
    Best,
    Wini

  • Hello, I live in France and have grown my own, many are now ripe. Do I de-seed them, dry them and then grind them into a powder to conserve them?

    • Wini

      I wish I knew the answer to that! I’ve never made Piment d’Espelette powder myself. I’ve always just bought it.

      Wish I could be more helpful!

  • Thanks for your reply. I’ll try drying them and then pound them in mortar and pestle.

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