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Pimentón/smoked paprika (Recipe: Clean the Freezer Chili)


By now, Top Chef is old hat.

(Of course you're watching it. We're all watching it. We're hooked. We don't want to be hooked on a reality show, but we are.)

If you've been with Top Chef for a while, you remember Season 2, the season when molecular gastronomy met traditional Spanish cuisine, the season of Sam-who-should-have-won, the season of Marcel vs. Ilan, the season of saffron and pimentón.

Until a couple of years ago, I'd never heard of pimentón, the smoked paprika from the La Vera region of southwestern Spain. Now, it's everywhere (Penzeys, McCormick, Spice House). So, how do you know which is the good stuff?

Is all pimentón smoked paprika? Yes.

Is all smoked paprika pimentón? No.

Smoked paprika is made by slowly smoking pimientos -- peppers -- over oak, which gives it a distinctive, husky aroma and flavor. The paprika can be mild or strong, depending on the variety of pimiento used. Small round peppers produce a dulce, or sweet, paprika; longer, dark red peppers make agridulce, a medium hot (often called bittersweet) paprika; and several types of long red chiles can become hot (picante) smoked paprika.

Pimentón de La Vera was the first chile pepper product to be granted a Denominacíon de Origen, or controlled name status, which means that other varieties of paprika cannot be called pimentón. The letters "D.O." on the label ensure that the product is made from peppers grown in the La Vera region and processed in the traditional way. If it doesn't have the D.O., it's probably not pimentón -- it's smoked paprika, from somewhere else.

In La Vera, peppers are harvested in the Fall and set out to dry in special drying houses, where they are placed on racks above oak fires, and turned once a day for two weeks. The peppers are then taken to mills to be stone-ground, slowly, to preserve as much of the flavor and color of the paprika as possible. Though parts of the process have been mechanized, much is still done by hand.

Each type of pimentón is used in a particular culinary arena: dulce pairs well with eggs, potatoes, rice, and fish; agridulce enhances smoked meats, beans, game dishes and stews; hot (picante) is best for winter soups, chorizo and octopus. In a pinch, you can substitute New Mexican ground red chile mixed with a bit of ground chipotle.

Most often packaged in tins to keep the light out, pimentón will last in your cupboard for up to two years, though once you've tried it with asparagus, roasted red pepper-tomato soup, penne with shrimp and arugula, tomato paella, herb jam with olives and lemon, grilled chicken Morocco or sprinkled atop deviled eggs, you'll be replenishing your supply more frequently.

Authentic Pimentón de La Vera is available in gourmet markets, and online from reliable sources like La Tienda.

Clean the Freezer Chili

I laughed and laughed when, last Spring, my friend Mary sent me the following recipe with the note, "I just made chili that was darned good. I thought that the list of ingredients was funny -- reflective of our imperfect pantry." Any pantry that can produce such a wonderful chili is a perfect pantry indeed! Of course I started checking my own freezer, cupboards and spice rack, to see how many of these things were in it. This recipe is the definition of Julia Child's favorite phrase, "proportions aren't terribly important." Improvise to your heart's content -- and empty your freezer now, before this summer's harvest begins.


Chopped onions and celery -- sautéed
Tempeh -- simmered in broth, then crumbled
Black beans
The last of last summer's roasted tomatoes
Ditto on the pesto
A good amount of mole sauce (at least a cup)
1/2 of a flat beer
Some OJ (orange juice)
A dash or two of balsamic vinegar
Celery seed
Dark chili powder
Ketchup (true!)
Smoked paprika (pimentón)


You know what to do -- throw everything into a pot, taste and taste again, and simmer until the flavors combine.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Floribean chicken chili 
Vegetable paella with spicy garlic sauce
Chicken paella with slow-roasted tomatoes
Black bean soup 
Paella alla Valenciana

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Yes, I will admit to watching Top Chef even though some of the things they do annoy me so much (Uncle Ben rice....really?).
Smoked paprika (pimenton or otherwise) is something I have never tried. Your gorgeous picture and description makes me want to buy some right away!

I'm not watching Top Chef, but I have been using pimenton de la vera for a few years. Luckily, the sweet Ximena brought me another batch last summer, so I'll be continuing to use it..

Try pimenton on broiled or grilled salmon, trout, and tuna. Awesome!

Interesting! I've never heard of this brand before. I've never seen it on my store shelves but I'll keep an eye out for it. Interestingly enough, tonight I'm making roasted chicken and the recipe calls for the use of smoked paprika. Yum! ;-)


Oh dear God I have had a long slow crush on Sam-who-stole-my-heart...and I have had a hankering for tempeh lately. Thanks for the recipe and the reminder (swoon)-

I am not sure if I'm proud or embarassed to reveal it, but I've never watched Top Chef, not even for a minute. It's lack of TV watching time more than anything else! I do have smoked paprika which I'm pretty sure is the real thing, and I love it! Mine is La Chinata brand and it does say Pimenton de la Vera.

Lydia, smoked paprika has been in my pantry for a few years and I'm lucky to get some Greek paprika from my parents' town.

Ah, clean out the freezer chili...we have clean out the freezer soup...so I can relate.

My brother brought me back a tin of pimenton from Spain a couple of years ago - I suspected it was some kind of chili powder, but never knew exactly. You solved the mystery. (It's a beautiful tin, too!)

Quick run to the kitchen, check the tin: yes it's 'vera' -- same brand as Kalyn -- thank goodness! I've been selling in the store, enjoying it at home. It's the vegetarian ham hock!

I'm a bit slow with my smoked paprika, having a tin of it for more years than I care to think about, but it still seems okay. Guess the smell of smoke never goes away. Love the throw-together nature of the recipe, sounds like a glorious result.

Smoked paprika, that stuff is gold! I haven't used it a lot lately (since I didn't have time to cook!). Would try your chilli recipe. But then now sure where to get mole sauce here in Oz. :(

Thank you! I just realized I'm out of smoked paprika!

Nupur, I agree, the commercial tie-ins on Top Chef can be a bit contrived, and the level of cooking this season is disappointing as a result. And yet, we keep watching.... do try pimenton, though, as it's a great substitute for bacon in many vegetarian dishes.

Pille, how lucky you are to get your pimenton hand-carried from Spain!

Kevin, I've used pimenton on tuna (a nice balance for the strong flavor of the fish), but never on salmon (one of my favorites) or trout (a fish I don't cook with... hmmmm, why not?). Thanks for your great suggestions.

Paz, I recently saw a recipe for a roast chicken that had been rubbed with pimenton. The color was amazing, and I can just imagine the flavor!

Callipygia, glad to know I am not the only one who thought the ending to Season 2 was, well, wrong. But then, Top Chef is getting less and less about cooking ability with each season.

Kalyn, yes, the La Chinata brand is a D.O. pimenton; I often have that one on my spice rack.

Peter, I'm intrigued -- Greek paprika? Is it smoked, too, like the pimenton? Is the flavor similar, or more like the Hungarian paprika? I'd love to know more. How nice to have something grown in your parents' town!

Peabody, we do clean-the-freezer soup, too. And I have to admit that some of my best creations have come from that "dump it all into the pot" way of cooking. There's a certain fearlessness about it.

TW, a pinch of pimenton has been known to fall into some of my tagine dishes, too. If yours has been kept in the tin, tightly closed, it has probably not lost much of its punch. Check the label before you use it, so you'll know if it's sweet or hot.

Susan, yes yes yes, a wonderful substitution for the smoky flavor of ham hock or bacon! I use it in soups and stews all the time. I'm so addicted that I have a tin of each of the three types: sweet, bittersweet and hot. A bit over the top?

Neil, ground spices will lose pungency over time, so just use a bit more of it in your recipe. And have fun cleaning out your freezer -- Mary's recipe has inspired me to do the same!

Anh, specialty stores sometimes have mole sauce in jars or tins, but you can also substitute a bit of tomato sauce and a square of dark chocolate or even cocoa powder.

Sher, oh no! Off to the store you go!

Yes. To Top Chef and to pimenton. We were introduced to it about 8 years ago by a chef/friend who cooked for a tapas restaurant. Fabulous stuff.

As always, a wonderful and informative post.

La Vera is such a lovely place, and one of the things I love most about it is the bunches of peppers hung out to dry outside almost every house. They take their pimentón very seriously there, as you can imagine!

I was so hooked to Sam...I mean Top chef. It was one of the reasons why I don't watch Top chef anymore. Smoked Paprika is so delicious with sausages

Great post! While everyone else is commenting on the de la Vera smoked paprika, I'm seriously hooked on Mary's "Clean the Freezer Chili." It sounds fascinating, and with so many ingredients I've never thought to add to chili before!

Kansas City plays backdrop to many chili cook-offs and while I have never entered any...finding and experimenting with recipes like this one keep pushing me closer & closer! Perhaps someday!

Count me among the few not watching Top Chef. But do count me in for the Pimenton..I cherish my small stash!!

Ann, thank you. Pimenton is great, isn't it? Once you start cooking with it, you wonder why it took you so long to discover it.

Lobstersquad, I've seen photos of the peppers drying -- reminds me of the ristras of peppers hanging from every house in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I hope to visit the La Vera region some day.

Warda, yes, I know, we all felt the same way...

Sandie, thank you. Mary's chili inspired me, too. In fact, this morning I pulled a half dozen "mystery containers" out of the fridge to defrost. I think I have some cooked red beans, some beef stew, and the last of last summer's slow-roasted tomatoes. Should make a great concoction!

Tartelette, fortunately pimenton is not as expensive as saffron, so I don't feel that I have to be quite as careful with it. I sprinkle a bit here and there in so many dishes; it's definitely one of my secret weapons.

We're feeling so left out on all the Top Chef talk as of late! Believe it or not, we don't watch TV. I catch a little bit of afternoon talk show when I have some free time at work and Todd catches up on some sports scores late at night.
I bought some pimenton at a specialty food store a few months back, not really knowing about all the intrigue of this wonderful spice. Now it's time to dig it up and make your dish. If only I can remember where I stashed it....

And here I am thinking that all smoked paprikas are the same. Such a great post, Lydia. Thanks for educating us :)

WORC, boo hoo, you won't get all the Top Chef jokes?! Once you get into using pimenton, I think you'll really like it. Not so much for Asian food, but definitely for other wonderful foods from hot climates.

Kristen, smoked paprika was a revelation to me. I grew up using Szeged Hungarian paprika, and didn't know there was any other kind. Now I'm hooked!

I love it! Clean The Freezer Chili! Too funny and such a great idea!!! And yes, not so funny was the season where Ilan won. That was heartbreaking. Sam was so cute.

Freezer Chili! That's great--leftover dishes can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, surprisingly good for "just leftovers" but on the other, unrepeatable because you'll be hard pressed to have all that stuff lying around again (or maybe its just me)!

As for Top Chef...no comment...I watch, begrudgingly, mumbling week after week about how its not as good as it used to be... :-/

Ms. Glaze, I'm defrosting containers from my freezer at this very moment. Tomatoes, pesto, beans... there's a chili in my future, too. (Yes, Sam was so cute. And the boy could cook.)

Mike, the best part about cleaning out the freezer now is that within a month or two we'll be filling it up again with harvest from this season. So there will always be freezer chili! (And I'm mumbling right there with you.)

I LOVE this stuff! I used it with everything. My most recent experiment was in a spicy chocolate cake (along with ginger, cinnamon, and chilis). I'll be posting the recipe soon on my blog, but it was so awesome!

I'm kind of embarassed about this since it apparently is hot and gourmet now, but I've had the Carrefour brand of pimenton from a trip to Spain in 2001 and loved it. Myabe it wasn't the real stuff, but that was my budget then (in med school). Just finished it off (jar sez expired 2005 but whatever) For those who don;t know, CArrefour is like the Sears/Walmart/Kmart/Safeway of Europe and actually of Brazil, too as I recall. A friend is going to spend next month in San Sebastian though and has promised me 2 jars on return.

Fastest gourmet meal known to man - frozen peeled shrimp sauteed in butter til pink and tossed with pimenton. Plop it on a dish with a few snips of chive/scallion. Takes 10 min, 20 if you want it on a bed of vermicelli. Good for days after work when you hit the door at 8 PM.

Alejandra, I'll look forward to that.

CS, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Thanks for the quickie recipe (sounds delicious) and for the tip about affordable pimenton. Many spices will keep in the cupboard for years; though they lose potency, you can increase the quantity in any dish to achieve a similar flavor.

"Is all pimentón smoked paprika? Yes.

Is all smoked paprika pimentón? No."

I just came home from a trip to Spain, where I bought Pimentón piccante - but it is definitely not smoked paprika, only hot paprika. I know, cause I already have smoked hot pimentón (also from Spain) to compare with. So could the above verdict really be true?

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