Padrón Peppers, the delightful Spanish version of Russian roulette

San Francisco

Every year about this time in San Francisco, pepper lovers in the know eagerly check their CSA’s with the same anticipation as a child peeking into their Christmas stocking, “Is it there?”  “Have my wishes been answered”?  What are they looking for?  In my case, it was a nondescript small paper bag almost hidden among my other vegetable bounty, which I gingerly opened, hoping for a cluster of small green peppers, ranging from the size of my pinky to the first part of my thumb.  These little guys hail from Padrón Spain, and are thankfully showing up with increasing frequency in restaurants, farmers markets, and (lucky for me) CSA boxes around the Bay Area.  I’m not sure about other parts of the United States, or the world for that matter, but these little fellas are worth seeking out.  Originally from Mexico, the good padres brought these tasty peppers back to Spain when they returned from the New World.

Padrón Peppers – Playing with Fire

Which one is the hottie?

Padrón peppers (Spanish pimientos de Padrón) are probably the most famous export from this region of Spain.  These small green peppers hail from the Capsicum annuum family, so their closest kin are bell peppers, cayenne, jalapenos and chitepin.  They are traditionally served fried with olive oil and salt, and are a favorite tapas.  Around the Bay Area, no self respecting tapas or farmers market seems complete without some on hand.  They do lend a sense of adventure to dining because, while the majority of these peppers are sweet and mild, every so often, one will reveal itself with hair raising heat, and if your pepper munching companion goes quiet and starts gulping the ice water, you know who was the lucky recipient of a disguised practical joker.

The padrón is characterized by the popular “Os pementos de Padrón, uns pican e outros non” (Galician for “Padrón peppers, some are hot and some are not”). The level of heat varies according to the quantity of capsaicin in each pepper.  With every rule of thumb, there is always an exception, but peppers grown towards August/September tend to contain more capsaicin than those green beauties of June/July.

Pimientos de Padrón (the classic recipe)

Ingredients

  • Pimientos de Padrón
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse rock salt – this is the de facto salt, but I like Maldon salt, added just before serving

Directions

Cooking time: Around 5 minutes per batch

Wash and pat dry the peppers (Do not remove the stems, these are used as handles to eat the peppers) Fry the peppers in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for five to six minutes until their skin begins to blister, stirring constantly so that the peppers are coated in the olive oil and cooked throughout.

Serve with your favorite wine – I’m partial to a crisp white.

Another yummy option from Jose Andreas

Galicia, Spain

Galicia has two official languages: Galician (Galician: Galego) and Spanish (known in Spain as castellano, “Castilian”).

Galician is recognized in the Statute of Autonomy of Galicia as the lingua propia “mother language” of Galicia.  Galician is related to Portuguese. Both descend from a Romance language of the Middle Ages now referred to as Galician-Portuguese. Galicia is in the extreme northwestern corner of Spain. Galicia’s west coast is on the Atlantic Ocean while the north coast is on the Cantabric Sea. It is a cold, wet climate, with rugged terrain and over 700 miles of rocky coastlines.

Historically it is one of the poorest regions of Spain. Small family farms of a few acres exist growing vegetables, however many families live from fisherman’s catches.

The people of Galicia descend from the Celts, and some of their traditions can be seen today. Galicians, or Gallegos, as they are called in Spanish waste nothing of what they grow or catch, including shells to fertilize the soil.  All sorts of fish are caught and eaten in Galicia, including gooseneck barnacles, called percebes, oysters or ostras, scallops vieiras, mussels mejillones, clams almejas, razor shell clams navajas and heart clams berberechos to name a few.

The region of La Limia is famous for its potatoes. Several varieties are grown there, but most people simply differentiate them as either la roja, red potato, or la blanca, white potato. La blanca is soft and mealy and is the secret to a good cocido gallego.

Octopus is popular in Galicia. Prepared a feira, the octopus must be pounded until tender, and boiled in a cooper pot and seasoned with olive oil, pimentón (Spanish paprika) and salt. It is traditionally served on wooden plates. This tapa is popular all over Spain and outside of Galicia is called Pulpo a la gallega or in Galician “Polbo á Feira”, which roughly translates as “Octopus, Galician style”.

Empanada – meat pie with a Celtic influence that includes a host of different fillings, including meat, fish and vegetables. The ingredients of the fillings are chopped finely and mixed with lots of onion, tomato sauce and spices, then spread between two layers of pastry. Finally, it is baked and served hot.  Even back in the XII century, pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela had heard of empanadas and requested them by name.

Lacón con Grelos is considered the most famous dish of Galicia. Lacón is boiled meat from the fore leg of a pig, while grelos are turnip leaves (some sources reference grelos as Broccoli rabe). The lacón and grelos are then boiled together and served with chorizo and potatoes.

La Vieira – sea scallops are abundant on the shores of Galicia. A typical recipe for these tasty morels involves a mixture is made of onion, parsley and breadcrumbs that covers the scallops (still in their shells).  The entire combination is then baked.

Caldo Gallego – Galician Broth is a hearty soup in Galicia. Cabbage, potatoes and beans form the basic broth, and often ham, sausage and pork are added to make a filling main course.

Pimientos de Padrón – Padrón Peppers are tiny peppers that are considered a delicacy. One of the famous cheeses is called tetilla, named after its breast-like shape – pardon me.  Other varieties include the San Simón cheese from Vilalba, and the creamy cheese produced in the Arzúa-Curtis area.

Tarta de Santiago – St. James’ Cake is named after St. James, the patron saint of Spain. It is a rich, heavy cake made of ground almonds, decorated with powdered sugar and the sword of St. James or a cross. Although the exact origin of this cake is unknown, it is thought that a pilgrim brought the recipe to Galicia during a pilgrimage.

Filloas –  crêpe-like pancakes are a favorite dessert made with flour, broth and eggs.

Galicians have long made strong distilled liqueurs. Locally produced orujo is a liqueur used in a popular and very traditional drink called queimada.  In the tradition of waste not, want not, the basic ingredients of orujo is the residue from wine production – grape skins, seeds and stalks.  From orujo, Galicians make queimada, in lemon peel, sugar and ground coffee are added to a clay pot, then the orujo is poured on top and the pot is lit on fire, in a Celtic Queimada Ritual.

If you want to read a bit more on the Padrón peppers, try –

Pepper Pilgrimage – Gourmet

Fresh Dirt – Sunset Magazine

FoodGal – Nature’s Magnificent Cocktail Nibble

Update me when site is updated

30 comments for “Padrón Peppers, the delightful Spanish version of Russian roulette

  1. August 21, 2010 at 9:09 PM

    cool post! i’m intrigued by the St James cake.

  2. August 22, 2010 at 3:46 AM

    I saw a recipe for these yesterday and thought they were HOT. I’ll have to look out for them here but no hopes raised! I just love the way people/food bloggers are focusing on seasonal – awesome!

  3. August 22, 2010 at 5:49 AM

    I’ve never heard of these but we’re going to Spain on Thursday so I’ll make sure to get some and give them a try.

  4. August 22, 2010 at 6:30 AM

    Padron peppers are some of my favorite peppers to cook with. Luckily here in Miami, I have a specialty store the imports produce from Spain. Not cheap, but well worth the money. It is really amazing how just a small amount can take a dish like, Caldo Gallego, to a whole new division.

    Another interesting read!

  5. August 22, 2010 at 6:34 AM

    I put it on my facebook page. Great job!

  6. August 22, 2010 at 8:23 AM

    I don’t know enough about Spanish cooking or many of their products. Now I am intrigued and will investigate. These peppers sound like food for the gods.

  7. August 22, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    Great info! I hope to find the padron peppers in my area to try & cook with them!

  8. August 22, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    I am hooked on padrons. Each year, I grow a padron plant, too. I’m so happy that I just plucked my first four peppers this morning. 😉

  9. August 23, 2010 at 3:54 AM

    wish you a good day !!Pierre

  10. August 23, 2010 at 10:15 AM

    Never heard of this peppers…thanks for the information…would try to look for them :-)

  11. August 23, 2010 at 2:48 PM

    I found some locally for the first time just recently. Now, I want to try growing them next spring!

  12. August 23, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    great post, I have recently tried padron peppers and I was blown away, great recipe

    sweetlife

  13. August 23, 2010 at 9:05 PM

    I’m very familiar with Galician cuisines because my country has one of the biggest community of Galician people out of Spain…here Spanish’s are called “Gallegos”. I love this hot fire pepper but bizarre here is scarce their presence, at least with that name.

    Have a great week!

    Gera

  14. admin
    August 24, 2010 at 5:43 AM

    LimeCake – I’m with you, I’m intrigued by about any cake myself.

    Kitchen Butterfly – We were prepared for a burst of heat, but both times cooked up some peppers with this last batch, we just had – no sneaky hot guys, but you are always on the lookout. I like hot, and even the hot ones I got were not that hot, say like a jalepeno.

    Crystal – I think you’ll love them, my husband is now hooked.

    Lazaro – I bet they are delicious to cook with, we enjoy them so much with this simple treatment, I have a hard time considering them beyond that. Thanks for adding to your Facebook page.

    Claudia – Believe me they are addicting. One of the first places I had them here in San Francisco was at an Italian restaurant Barbacco. All I can say is that maybe that fabulous farmers market in Minneapolis/St, Paul would have them. I am not sure they are difficult to grow, and if I did not live in an apartment, I’d be growing these little beauties.

    5 Star – Knowing what I do about you through the recipes you share, you would love them.

    Carolyn – alas my indoor garden is conspiring against me, so most of what I had been growing is turning brown with all the foggy weather we’d been having so I have missed the joy and satisfaction of picking my own veggies. I’ll live vicariously through you.

    Pierre – Good day to you too.

    Juliana – I hope you are able to find them.

    Lisa – I think you’ll love them, so they are already past season for you in Texas?

    Sweetlife – Isn’t in amazing how tasty they are, they are like a best kept secret.

    Gera – Lucky you to have all that goodness close to home. So they are not just scarce around here? Hmm, I’m sensing a good business opportunity for some enterprising soul.

  15. August 24, 2010 at 5:51 AM

    How interesting to hear about the heat being related to the growing season. I hadn’t really thought about that. Each time I see someone mention peppers I realize it is a world of which I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve learned of countless varieties just this year, including this one, and I know there are so many more out there. Mild, medium, hot – I love peppers, and now I have many more varieties to seek out when we travel.

  16. August 24, 2010 at 11:49 AM

    Wow! I had never heard of these peppers. Never ever – and that shocks me. I love the idea of eating them so simply and the russian roulette aspect is hilarious and fun. Matt would loves these. Thanks for the tip, though I doubt I’ll find them in Abu Dhabi anytime soon. :)

  17. August 24, 2010 at 4:48 PM

    I too have never heard of this pepper, but I am obsessed with chipotles so that doesn’t surprise me! I love that they’re catching on here – that means I might get a chance to try them one day – and will have to keep an eye out for them now that I’m aware.

  18. August 24, 2010 at 5:15 PM

    Thanks for the heads-up! I will be looking out for it :)

  19. August 25, 2010 at 4:53 AM

    I love peppers! I have already bought them, but never had a fiery misadventure with them! ;-P

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  20. August 25, 2010 at 5:42 AM

    How interesting! Never had these peppers, but had read an article or two about Galicia maybe in Gourmet; in any case, it just occurred to me that when you mention the cold and wet climate, maybe this is why the locals like hot and fiery foods, to warm themselves up! In Lebanon, most food is spiced, but mild, but then the weather here is warm and temperate

  21. August 25, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    Don’t think I’ve had these peppers before. Then again as much as I love my hot and spicy foods I tend to be a chicken when it comes to peppers. hehehe… I’m slowly but sure coming out of my shell on these guys.

  22. admin
    August 25, 2010 at 7:11 PM

    Lori – If you could grow these in your magical garden, trust me you’ll be in heaven. We’re already craving another batch and my fingers are crossed their in my next CSA box.

    Brenda – We’ll just have to remedy your lack of padron experiences when you next return to the states. I think you’ll really enjoy them once you;ve had the opportunity.

    Reeni – I hope its a thing where it caught on here and is expanding to other regions, l never saw them when I lived in DC.

    Tigerfish – Hope you find them, probably at your local farmers market.

    Rosa – That’s half the fun, you never know what your next bite is going to be like.

    Taste of Beirut – I agree the climate may have something to do with the desire for spicy foods

    Jenn – Trust me, these are normally not that hot and even if you got a hot one, its not like chomping into a Sorreno or Jalepeno – I’ve had some killers there.

  23. August 28, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    I don’t like to eat too hot peppers,…but my husband does!

    thanks for the great updated info on different hot peppers,…I have a home grown red chili pepper plant, ..but the peppers aren’t that hot!

  24. August 28, 2010 at 10:44 PM

    We first tasted a dish of padron peppers cooked this way last year on a trip to Basque country and absolutely fell in love! Husband ordered this not knowing what it was. The plate arrived, a plate piled high with tiny roasted peppers, and we stared at it, astonished, thinking “how in the world am I (is he) going to eat a plate of peppers?” Well, he both tasted them and wished we had both ordered this as a first course! Fabulous!!! Thanks for the info and this great recipe!

  25. August 30, 2010 at 9:24 PM

    Those peppers are awesome. There’s a place called Father’s Office here in LA that makes a slightly spicy, salty appetizer of padron peppers. Perfect!

  26. August 30, 2010 at 9:26 PM

    I’m racking my brain now to remember where I saw a recipe for these peppers fried in oil. Never had them before but we have a local pepper that might be a good substitute. I’m intrigued. Its the same thing with out Trinidad pimentos. They are a mild pepper with no heat but they are not sweet. Every once in a while you get a hot one. I was told that it happens when the Pimentos are grown too close to the scotchbonnets (hot peppers) and they cross pollinate.

  27. September 3, 2010 at 7:41 AM

    You just really, literally- ‘heated’ up my enthusiasm for Spain! Love the accent of the guy in the video, he must be from the basque region- my friend has the same accent, a cross of French and Spanish. I will be returning home talking like that, lol, but also fat and sassy from all the wonderful food, and I hope to fall right into a pepper bush!

  28. admin
    September 6, 2010 at 5:44 AM

    Sophie- These peppers are really not too hot, unless you get one of those rogue ones that is.
    Jamie – What a great story – I can only imagine being confronted with a plate of these not knowing what they were are first and then discovering their delights.

    Duo – Yum, the Father’s Office sounds like my kinda place.

    Wizzy – Interesting about your pimentos. I wonder if they are in the same family as the Padrons? Now you have me intrigued.

    Chef E – Jose Andres is a favorite chef from DC. His restaurants are all wonderful there. I hope you fall into many pepper bushes what a way to discover new food. Have a wonderful trip.

  29. October 4, 2010 at 3:22 PM

    Just thought I would share- I found no spicy peppers in the areas of Spain we visited- they must all be growing in Portugal, lol, although they do eat the peppers a la pancha which is on the flat grill, and quite good, a strong pepper flavor comes through, like bell, well similar, but no heat at all! even with all the seeds still intact, and so little, look like jalapenos!

    We will have to make another trip to Portugal next time, too much driving to get to all the places we wanted to go!

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