I Spice: Paprika
Never have I encountered the kind of reaction from writers, authors, friends, colleagues and even total strangers on social networking sites that I got when I mentioned I was doing an article on paprika. There were many “yummmmmms.”
I have to confess initial ignorance about uses for the spice ground from varieties of capsicum peppers. I am one of those sad souls who has only ever used it as a garnish for deviled eggs and mashed potatoes, thinking it adds mostly color and only a little bit of flavor.
Carolyn Banfalvi, author of “Food Wine Budapest” (Little Bookroom, 2008) and former Capitol Hill resident, told me that in their cooking, Hungarians use paprika in scoops rather than in the pinches that we are used to in the United States. She said Hungarian paprika comes from the south of the country, from the areas of Szeged and Kalocsa. It varies in color from deep reddish-brown to bright orange, in intensity from sweet to very hot, and in texture from finely ground to coarse. Sweet paprika is generally what Hungarians cook with, and they always keep a little container of hot paprika on the table so people can add their own heat.
Confusingly, in Hungarian, “paprika” is the name of both the spice and the pepper — any kind of fresh pepper, for that matter, but not black peppercorns.
Banfalvi offers this tip to get the most out of your paprika: “The trick to cooking with paprika is to add the spice to hot oil to extract its flavor, like the Hungarians do. But you have to be very careful not to let it burn or caramelize, which will ruin its flavor. In Hungary, the classic way to begin a dish is to saute onions in fat (usually pork fat) until they are glassy, and then stir in the paprika, quickly removing the pan from the heat. From there, nearly any Hungarian dish can be created!”
She recommends buying paprika either in Hungary, if you are lucky enough to go, or from an online vendor such as Spice House in Chicago.
To be fair, half of the aforementioned “yummmmmms” came not for regular paprika but for the smoked sweet Spanish pimenton. (Hungarian paprika is never smoked.) Chef-restaurateur and Spanish food authority José Andrés says, "It is a spice that finds its way into a million recipes in Spain thanks to its very unique flavor; at once it is smoky and earthy. It is in many ways the flavor in Spanish cooking. Pimenton gets its intense flavor because it is dried over wood smoke. You can try hot, sweet or bittersweet, though sweet is probably the most commonly used.”
The best way to store paprika is as you would any other spice: in a sealed container in a dark, cool place.
You can find pimenton at Spanish purveyors such as La Tienda, says Andrés, but he adds that more and more you find it at supermarkets such as Wegmans, Giant and Whole Foods Markets. McCormick is even making one now.
Several Twitter buddies — and even strangers — suggest some wonderful uses for paprika: “Hungarian paprika on roasted butternut squash soup”; “Favorite though is chicken paprika over pasta”; “paprika mac n cheese w/ red pepper flakes & asiago.” The most fun suggestion came from Tana Butler, a Santa Cruz, Calif., resident: “I am never without Chiquilin brand smoked paprika. I called it ‘bacon dust’ once, to fool some spice-phobic family members when I served it on deviled eggs. Also in omelets with goat cheese and some roasted red peppers. Perfect. Bacon dust, yummmmmm.”
-- Monica Bhide
Catalan Tomato and Onion Sauce (Sofrito)
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
MAKE AHEAD: The sauce can be frozen for up to 1 month or refrigerated for up to 5 days. Adapted from "Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America," by José Andrés and Richard Wolfe (Clarkson Potter, 2005).
10 ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 small onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon Spanish pimenton (smoked paprika)
2 to 3 bay leaves
Place a large-holed grater over a large mixing bowl. Rub the cut sides of the tomato halves on the grater down to the skin, then discard the skin. Strain the flesh and any juices, discarding the seeds.
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium or medium-low heat. Add the onions, sugar and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 40 to 45 minutes, until the onions are tender and lightly caramelized. (Avoid burning the onions; if they get too dark, add a little water.)
Add the tomato flesh and any juices, smoked paprika and bay leaves; mix well. Increase the heat to medium, if needed; cook, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Taste and add salt as needed.
Remove the bay leaves before serving or storing (let cool before storing).
Per serving (per 1/2 cup): 338 calories, 2 g protein, 12 g carbohydrates, 34 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 473 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 7 g sugar
The Food Section
May 8, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: I Spice , Recipes | Tags: I Spice, paprika, recipes, sofrito
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