Paprika, or pimentón, is one of the essential ingredients in Spanish cooking. It is used in everything from chorizo sausage and lomo to chilindron sauces and sprinkled on top of octopus and even fried eggs! There are several kinds of paprika—sweet, spicy, smoked, or a combination.
Where Does Spanish Paprika or Pimentón Come From?
Paprika is made from ground, dried red chile peppers originally from the Americas. So important is paprika to Spanish cooking and so demanding are the Spanish of quality paprikas that there are Denominations of Origin (D.O.) for paprika. One of the D.O. is located in Murcia, a province on the southeastern coast of Spain, between Almeria and Alicante. The other and more famous is La Vera, which is located in Cáceres, Extremadura, southwest of Madrid. Both of these areas are warm and dry in the summer, which makes them perfect for growing peppers.
It is said that Christopher Columbus brought paprika back to Spain during his second voyage and served it to Ferdinand and Isabella in Extremadura and even though it was a bit hot and spicy for the king and queen, the monks of the monastery in Guadalupe passed it along to other brothers and it was spread from Extremadura all over Spain.
What Are the Types of Spanish Paprika?
There are several different types of Spanish paprika, made from different kinds of peppers.
- Pimentón Dulce or Sweet Paprika: Round red peppers make this mild, light orange paprika.
- Pimentón Agridulce or Medium Hot Paprika: Longer, dark red pepper make a medium-hot paprika.
- Pimentón Picante or Hot Paprika: Made from any of several different types of long red peppers.
How Is Spanish Paprika or Pimentón Made?
In La Vera, pepper seeds are planted in March and harvested from September to November. When ripe, families join together with others in the towns to manually harvest the small red peppers.
First, the peppers are set out to dry in little drying houses. Pimentón de la Vera has a distinctly smoky flavor that comes from the process of smoke-drying the peppers with huge amounts of oak wood in the drying houses. Peppers are placed on racks above the fire and farmers turn the peppers by hand once a day. This drying process takes about two weeks.
Next, the dried peppers are taken to small paprika mills, where the stalks and part of the cores are removed. Then, the peppers are ground in electric mills that have stone wheels. Heat from friction can be detrimental to the flavor and color of the paprika, so it is very important that the grinding process is done slowly. Once ground, the paprika is packed in cans and sold. Spanish Paprika will keep in your cupboard for about 2 years.
In Murcia, the traditional method for drying the peppers is to lay them out in the sun. Larger companies are now beginning to build rooms to hot air dry them. Some companies even sterilize the powder using steam, so that the paprika keeps longer.
Recipes Using Spanish Paprika or Pimentón
As we said before, Spanish paprika is used in many dishes in Spanish cuisine.
- Gambas al Ajillo - Shrimp in Garlic: One of the most common Spanish tapas, this dish is quick, easy and full of garlic flavor as well as paprika.
- Patatas Bravas - Bravas Potatoes: One of the classic Spanish tapas, with a sauce that has a little kick from Tabasco and paprika.
- Aceitunas a la Madrileña - Olives a la Madrilene: A simple dish of olives, onions, paprika marinated with oil and vinegar.
Soups & Salads
- Ensalada Tropical – Tropical Salad: The mixture of fruit, cheese, and fish is very unusual, but creates a delicious and tantalizing taste that is finished off with Spanish Paprika on top.
- Sopa de Ajo – Castilian Garlic Soup: This soup is a very old, peasant-style dish and is typical of the Castilla-Leon Regional Cuisine.
- Potaje de Garbanzos y Espinacas: Garbanzo and Spinach Soup: This soup is from the New Castilla/Madrid area. It is full of flavor and like our American “chile,” it seems to get even better when eaten the following day!
- Fabada Asturiana - Asturian Bean and Sausage Casserole: This is a typical and very traditional dish from Asturias, made with white beans, sausage, ham, meat, and tomatoes. It is a perfect dish for winter—satisfying, and warming.
- Caldereta de Cordero – Lamb Casserole: Although officially called a casserole, this dish reminds us more of a rich, thick lamb stew with lots of garlic, and of course Spanish paprika.
- Chuletas de cerdo a la madrilena – Pork chops a la Madrilene: These pork chops are relatively easy to prepare and it does not take much time to prepare but is very delicious with garlic and Spanish paprika.
- Huevos Rellenos de Atun – Deviled Eggs with Tuna: This is a traditional recipe for deviled eggs, as they are made in Spain. Tuna and a bit of tomato sauce are mixed with the egg yolks, then topped with mayonnaise. Try it and see why this is a Spanish Favorite.