In her weekly column, author Wini Moranville featured the little-known French chile, Piment d’Espelette.
“What makes it so special? In terms of spice level, these piments aren’t blazing hotties by any means. Rather, they bring a more gentle spiciness, as well as an intriguing fruity angle. (BonAppétit.com identifies the flavor as somewhat peach-like, with sea-brine qualities and a “nuanced, subtle heat.”)
“Nuanced? Indeed–no wonder the French like it.”
To explain a little further: Piment d’Espelette is a medium-heat chile native to Southern France, in the Basque region. Introduced to France from the New World [Mexico and South America] five hundred years ago, Piment D’Espelette quickly became popular as a substitute for rare and costly imported black pepper. It is now a cornerstone of Basque cuisine.
Piment D’Espelette is unique for providing rich intensity of flavor, without contributing too much heat. It’s a great substitute for Anaheim Chiles in any recipe. Piment D’Espelette is mild, climbing to only 4,000 on the Scoville scale. Heat-wise, D’Espelette is comparable to paprika.
Piment D’Espelette is a key ingredient in piperade (Wini Moranville’s recipe here), a popular Basque dish prepared with onion, green peppers, and tomatoes sauteed and flavoured with red D’Espelette pepper. Eggs or ham are also often added to piperade.
Wonder what else to do with this quirky pepper? Check out our list of other recipes that use Piment d’Espelette.
The Piment D’Espelette is so prized that it has been given a protected designation by the European Union: the appellation d’origine control [aoc], ensuring that only peppers grown in the Espelette region may be labeled as “Piment D’Espelette.”