Piment d'Espelette (Recipe: chicken basquaise with piperade)
On the last weekend in October, thousands of people will crowd into the narrow streets of the town of Espelette, in the Basque region of southwest France, for The Celebration of Peppers, honoring the area's most famous agricultural product: piment d'Espelette.
I'm partial to any food that merits an entire festival held in its name (Gilroy garlic, Hatch chiles, Crisfield crabs). I'm also partial to any food that comes from only one place on Earth.
Piment d'Espelette is a one-place-on-Earth, deserves-a-parade, sweet-hot pepper produced in only ten small villages in France with a total growing area of just 3,000 acres, earning it the coveted Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) designation.
AOC certification is granted to certain French products, like champagne, that are unique and grown in only one well-defined geographic region. Roquefort cheese was the first AOC product, designated in 1925; piment d'Espelette received its AOC appellation in 1999. As a result, this newest addition to my pantry has made its way into the American food scene, and into gourmet markets and online shops.
As essential to authentic Basque cooking as jalapeños are to Tex-Mex cuisine and anchos are to molé, piment d'Espelette is harvested in late summer, when the bright red peppers are strung like the chile ristras of the Southwest US, and hung on the lovely white houses of the villages to dry in the sun.
If you can't find the real thing, you can substitute hot paprika, mild New Mexico red chile powder, or a combination of the two with a bit of pimentón mixed in.
Piment d'Espelette is used, most famously, to both color and flavor the outside of Bayonne ham, but once you have it in your pantry, you'll love the uniquely sweet heat in a variety of recipes for steak and chips, fish and ribs, pretzels or — oui, oui — let-them-eat cake.
Chicken basquaise with piperade
Recipe adapted very slightly from Fieryfoods.com. Piperade is a colorful pepper sauce that is only spicy when made in the Basque region. This simple but delicious dish is often served at the Celebration of the Peppers. Serve with boiled potatoes and green beans, over rice, or with egg noodles; tastes best at room temperature. Serves 4-6.
1/2 cup olive oil
4 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
4 green bell peppers, seeds and stems removed, chopped
2 red bell peppers, seeds and stems removed, chopped
4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
3 Tbsp piment d'Espelette, or more to taste (substitute hot paprika or New Mexico red chile powder)
Pinch of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1 chicken, cut up, or equivalent chicken parts (2 breasts, cut in half; 4 thighs; 2 legs), skin on, bone in
1/4 cup chicken stock
Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large sauté pan and cook the onions and garlic for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bell peppers and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and Espelette powder and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the thyme, salt, and pepper and transfer to a bowl.
Wipe out the pan and heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil. Brown the chicken in the oil until golden, turning often. Pour the pepper mixture over the chicken, reduce the heat, cover and simmer until tender, about 30-40 minutes. (If there is not enough liquid in the pan, add the chicken stock.) Season with salt and pepper to taste.
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You can put it on popcorn, too! :)
I can go there for that - what a wonderful idea!
That's such a great time to travel, the weather is still nice and the crowds are gone.
Plus I can get some of the lovely pepper...
Double plus - I love Basque food!
I'm going to have to make room for a jar next to the harissa.
Lovely post! I always learn something new form you. Piment d'Espelette sounds really interesting.
Now, I wish I could get my hands on this beautiful pot of piment d'espelette!
Thanks for sharing all these info with us Lydia, I agree with Anh. We always learn something new in your posts:)
I really like the concept of AOC certification. It's such a testimony to how seriously the French take their food, and the quality and integrity of produts and ingredients.
Christine, great idea!
Katie, take me with you. If you do get to Espelette for the festival, I hope you'll write about it and share some photos!
Susan, all the red things in the pantry should go together -- wouldn't that be an efficient way to organize? Now if only I could manage to be that organized in my own pantry....
Anh and Valentina, thank you both.
TW, you are so right. France, Italy, Spain, Portugal all have their own version of the AOC. Are there American food products that would merit an appellation (i.e., grown in only one well-defined region)?
Oh dear, another unusual spice that I simply must get to add to my spice drawer! Thanks for making me aware of this!
I think peppers are beautiful and the variety is astounding. I've never heard of this kind before either...time to hit Zingerman's.
Lydia, I am with you any food, spice, herb etc. that needs to have an entire festival around it - is something for me. I really love the sound of this recipe. Thanks for the substitutes to this too. I have not seen this anywhere in the stores here.
Freya, you will love this, I'm sure.
Callipygia, this is definitely a wonderful pepper to have on your spice rack. Hooray for Zingerman's!
Meeta, the recipe is a lovely chicken and peppers basic, but with the twist of the espelette pepper to lift it a bit. I think you'll like it. There are good sources online to buy the pepper.
Ooh, my kind of dish, Lydia! I did something similar the other night, but now I think I will make this one Sunday. I won't have piment D'Espelette, but maybe I can track some down in Paris and make it there, too.
Mimi, you'll surely find this in Paris. The list of what you want to bring home from your trip must be quite long!
I'll endorse the comments about always learning something from your blogs - AND it's always stuff that is just fascinating. A great way to learn and feed my enthusiasm for pantry products. Thank you Lydia.
I love the Basque region - just makes me want to travel soon!
I thnk we should form a tour of all these festivals aroound the globe - a Perfect Pantry Blog Tour!! We could stage a few events on the side for PP participants...
Link, thanks for your kind words, and for the great PP Blog Tour idea. I love it! Maybe we could get Michael Palin to be our tour guide....