Sunday, February 19, 2012


Pimentón is an ingredient that pops up over and over in Spanish recipes. (See last week’s post about chorizo.) Pimentón is, simply, Spanish for “paprika”.

So why don’t I just call it paprika? Because the Spanish word is so much closer to the origin of this spice than is paprika—a word of Serbian origin. Here’s the pimentón creation story.

Pimentón is produced from the capsicum annuum pepper, the chile, discovered by Columbus on his first trip to the New World. He was looking for the “Indies,” the source of “pepper,” pimienta in Spanish. When he found the hot-tasting capsicum, Columbus called it pimiento, from which derives “pimentón”.

Columbus carried peppers and other New World fruits back to Spain, where they were cultivated by monks in various abbeys. The Hieronymite monks at the Yuste monastery in La Vera (Extremadura) were the first to dry the peppers and use the powder as a flavoring and food preservative. They shared with brother-monks at the monastery in La Ñora (Murcia).

Supposedly Emperor Charles V, when he abdicated the Spanish throne in 1555 and retired to the Yuste monastery, got to like the spice (he was a notorious gourmand) and recommended it to his sister, Queen Mary of Hungary (which roped in parts of Serbia). That’s where it became known as “paprika,” the Serbo-Croatian word for “pepper”.

 Which still doesn’t explain why the English-speaking world calls it “paprika” rather than “pimentón.” More Hungarian immigrants to US shores? You can see why I stick to the word “pimentón.”

Pimentón is made from choricero peppers (left) and ñoras.
So, how is it produced? Pimentón is made from dried red peppers which, depending on the cultivar, can be sweet, bittersweet or hot (picante). After drying, the peppers are milled—ground—to a fine powder. The most used peppers are the choricero, elongated, and the ñora or bola, a sort of mini bell pepper, about the size of a plum. Both are sweet to bittersweet.

Pimentón is produced both in Murcia, in eastern Spain, and in the La Vera region of Extremadura in western Spain.

In Murcia, in eastern Spain, the hot, dry Mediterranean climate allows the peppers to be sun-dried (or, industrially, dried with hot air).

In autumn when the peppers ripen in La Vera, early rains in the Atlantic climate of Extremadura make sun-drying impossible. So, the peppers are smoke-dried 10 to15 days over smouldering chunks of wild holm oak. From the smoking sheds they’re carried to the milling factory where they are stone-ground to red powder. The slow smoking fixes the natural carotenoid pigments of the peppers, producing an intensely red spice. It also adds an ineffable natural smokiness that complements many foods.

So, pimentón de la Vera (which has DO, denominación de origen) is smoked paprika. Pimentón de Murcia (which has DOP, denominación de origen protegida) is not smoked. They are both “pimentón.” Both come as dulce, sweet; agridulce, bittersweet, and picante, spicy-hot.

Dulce—sweet pimentón—is, by far, the most widely used spice in Spanish cooking. Sweet pimentón, smoked or unsmoked, is the most versatile, while the bittersweet adds complexity to a dish. The spicy-hot is piquant and flavorful, but not as fiery as cayenne.

In Spain, the lion’s share of pimentón goes to the sausage-making industry. The most emblematic Spanish sausage, garlicky chorizo, is colored and flavored with it.

Pimentón is widely used in home cooking too and not just a sprinkle for color. Heaping tablespoons of it go into sauces where it provides richness of flavour. In Extremadura, La Vera pimentón is the preferred type. Elsewhere in Spain, unsmoked pimentón is used lavishly, even in paella and other rice dishes.

Use Spanish pimentón, smoked or unsmoked, in any recipe calling for paprika. It gives a little flamenco flounce to Hungarian goulash. Use the La Vera spice, with its earthy, smoky aroma, in barbecue sauces, marinades and spice rubs. The spicy-hot version adds pizzazz to beans and lentils, gratin dishes, seafood cocktail sauces. The hot stuff is a wake-up call for humble devilled eggs or potato salad.

Scrape pulp from choricero peppers.
In cooking with pimentón, stir it into a little water and blend smooth before adding to a sauce. Or stir it into hot oil—off the heat—before incorporating liquid ingredients. Take care not to scorch pimentón, else it becomes bitter. If using pimentón on barbecued food, add it during the last few minutes of grilling, so that it doesn’t burn.

Store pimentón tightly covered and protected from light.

To use dried choricero or ñora peppers instead of pimentón, remove stems and seeds from the peppers, then soak them in boiling water until softened. Open the peppers and scrape the pulp from the inside.

Monkfish in pimentón sauce.
Fish in Pimentón Sauce
Pescado al Pimentón

This can be made with any solid-fleshed fish, such as monkfish or skate. The sour juice of bitter oranges gives punch to the sauce.

Serves 4.

1 ½ pounds fish fillets
3 slices bread, crusts removed
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons sweet or bittersweet pimentón (not smoked)
1 teaspoon oregano
½ cup white wine
1 ½  cups fish stock or water
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium potatoes, thickly sliced
2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar or sour orange juice
12 mussels, steamed open
chopped flat-leaf parsley to garnish

Cut the fish fillets into 3-inch pieces. Sprinkle with salt and let set for 30 minutes, then pat the fish dry.

Soak the bread in water to cover until softened. Squeeze it out and put in a blender with the garlic, pimentón, oregano and wine. Blend until smooth.

Heat the oil in a cazuela or skillet. Sauté the pieces of fish about 1 minute on each side. The fish does not need to brown. Remove. Add the potatoes to the cazuela and turn them in the oil for 3 minutes.

 Pour over the blended pimentón sauce. Add the fish stock or water. Simmer until the potatoes are almost tender, 20 minutes. Add the fish to the pan and cook in the sauce for 10 minutes, or until fish flakes easily. If sauce thickens too much, add additional broth or water.

Add the vinegar or orange juice and cook 2 minutes more. Garnish with the steamed mussels. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve in the same cazuela in which the fish cooked.


  1. I am so enjoying your blog! Love anything Spanish, so it is very interesting to read your recipes - thank you.
    I found you via google and I live in the South of France. I am English. TFS

    1. Jacqueline: Glad you are enjoying our chats about the food of Spain. Enjoy.

  2. Thank you - I am! We have an English section of food in our local Supermarket and now I have discovered a Spanish section which was there along but I didn't 'see' it. I have bought some of the big beans to make one of your recipes. I also enjoy Jamie Oliver on Channel 4 every day.

  3. Really nice blog and great post on pimenton.I was in La Vera region a couple of years ago walking with friends and saw quite a few ,surprising traditional paprika factories

    1. Patrick: Walking--what a great way to experience the La Vera region. Surprising, isn't it, how small the pimentón industry is?

  4. Thanks for a super informative post. I have a few pots of choriceros growing on my deck in Philly.
    Can't help but obsess on the possibilities come harvest time.

    1. Gaetano: glad you found this informative and are enjoying Spanish flavors in Philly. I've never grown choriceros--wonder what they are like fresh? Dried ones I drop into every pot of lentils or beans. Once cooked, I scrape out the flesh and mix into the beans.

  5. Dear Janet,
    I have been enjoying your blog very much. I teach Spanish at a technical college with a good culinary arts program. I am thinking of designing and offering a course in Spanish about the culinary regions of Spain. I am hoping you might have some ideas for me about some "must have" cookbooks from or about Spain and its cooking. I have Simone Ortega's 1080 Recetas de Cocina (which is rather like the Betty Crocker of my Spanish collection). I also have a couple by Theresa Berrenechea who specializes mostly in Basque Cuisine in particular. Would you have any others that you would suggest as I start to pull this together? I can be reached at if you have any ideas you wouldn't mind sharing (and because I am not always gifted in refinding posts like this to check back on them later for a response). Thanks in advance for your help.


    1. James: I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. You will find information about my own cookbooks if you follow this link The only one that is specifically about regional Spanish cooking is COOKING FROM THE HEART OF SPAIN, about the food of La Mancha. Another excellent book is THE FOOD OF SPAIN, by Claudia Roden. I reviewed that book here: I hope this is helpful. Good luck with your course planning.

  6. Very informative post! I've heard about "pimenton" for some time now, but just last night used it as one of the main components of a dry rub for pork chops that were grilled. Fantastic (your comment about pimenton becoming bitter when charred ... hmm, perhaps there was a bit of bitterness, but we all LOVED the smokey deliciousness of pimenton with the pork ...)

    Anyway - what actually prompts my post here is a question: I see your picture sub-titled "Scrape pulp from choricero peppers" - and I'm wondering what the context is for that. Was this a different recipe you were developing, that called for roasted pepper pulp? Or is this something you just regularly do?

    I'm familiar with roasting peppers and then peeling off the charred skin, leaving the pulp behind I guess. What is the reason for scraping it this way, instead?

    (just curious!)

    And thank you - I look forward to following this blog!

    1. pvl: Pimentón does add a smoky deliciousness. The photo of scraping the pulp is explained in the text-- the pulp is an alternative to using pimentón, the spice. And, vice versa, in old recipes that call for pulp of ñoras, you can reconstitute pimentón with a little water and use it in place of the pulp.