There was just no denying it. We came back from Spain with a serious hankering for pimientos de Padron. Somewhere, with our nine plates of these little green peppers in Spain, we’d become addicted. No late night shakes and cold sweats, mind you. Instead, relentless cravings and prototypical pepper seeking behavior were the main pimientos de Padron withdrawal symptoms.
Back in the States, we looked for a local chapter of Pimientos de Padron Anonymous. We couldn’t find one. Our cravings continued unabated and our pepper seeking behavior led us on a search for a replacement in California.
First I tried preparing other types of peppers that I found in the Farmer’s Markets in the same manner used for pimientos de Padron in Spain. My experiments were unsuccessful. I could cook the peppers the same way, but the results did not match the Padron peppers we had in Spain. More often than not, the peppers I cooked were thermonuclear spicy-hot with the salt and the oil only accentuating the peppers natural, lingering heat. It was clear. I needed real Padron peppers. Just as we figured that we’d have to hop on a plane and head back to Spain for more peppers, pimientos de Padron starting to appear in small quantities in the Bay Area’s Farmer’s Markets. We bought all we could find.
Preparing the peppers is easy. Add olive oil to a hot sauté pan followed by the cleaned and dried Padron peppers. Toss and turn on high heat until the skins are blistered-bubbly and the flesh is softened. Off the heat, sprinkle the hot, oil coated peppers with flaky salt. Serve as an appetizer with a glass of chilled Txakoli or a cold beer if the Basque white wine isn’t available in your fridge.
The flavor of Padron peppers is reminiscent of green bells, but the skins are thinner and flavor is less sweet and more complex. With pimentos de Padron, the slightly bitter, appealing aftertaste lingers on the tongue. The flaky salt keeps drawing you back to the plate for more. While most of the peppers are mildly spicy with just a hint of heat, occasionally you catch a pepper with serious, jalapeño level spiciness. Supposedly, larger peppers and those grown later in the season are more likely to be hot. We haven’t done a statistical survey, but this may well be correct. For sure, starting with a small bite on the tip of the pepper and proceeding onward when the coast is clear is the safest approach for avoiding an out of body hot pepper experience.
Are the California-grown peppers as good as the ones in Spain? Flavor-wise, the Padron peppers we get in the Bay Area are very similar to those in Spain. There is one difference, though. In Spain, the size of the peppers we were served or saw in the markets was uniform. In California, there is a lot more variation in the length and, perhaps as a result, the heat of the peppers. California growers haven’t quite perfected the process. I’m sure the farmers will harvest a more consistent product in California soon enough.
We are happy to have pimientos de Padron in California. There is one problem, though. The growing season is ending soon. Now what are we going to do to feed our addiction?
Our pepper eating exploits, along with other details, are included here:
More on Padron peppers: