Here's a popular Spanish saying about the super flavorful Padrón peppers: unos pican otros no―or, "Some are hot, some are not." This likely comes from the fact that about 10 percent of these peppers are spicy, and the person who is "lucky" enough to get a hot one is usually taken by surprise.
These tiny peppers have become so beloved and are such a point of pride among Spaniards that they're celebrated with their own festival. But you don't have to travel to Spain to enjoy them, as growers stateside are starting to make these delightful peppers available.
What Are Padrón Peppers?
Members of the Capsicum genus, Padrón peppers are bright green to yellow-green (and sometimes red), 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) long with a thin skin. They have an elongated shape. Like all peppers, their level of the chemical capsaicin determines their heat. For Padróns, the varying degrees of sun and water they receive creates that culinary roulette-like experience: Some are spicy, some are not.
They're traditionally grown in Padrón, Galicia (in northwestern Spain), reflecting the origin of their name. This region is well known for its lush green landscape, mild temperatures, and high amount of rainfall. The area's fertile soil and cool weather provide the ideal growing conditions for these peppers, whose season is May through September. They're also grown in Mexico and the United States.
According to legend, these peppers made their way to Spain from South America via Spanish monks in the 16th century, who began growing them inside the walls of their monastery in the village of Herbón. They became popular locally, and European law has granted the name pimiento de Herbón the coveted protected designation of origin (PDO) status, which reflects its unique relationship to both the geography and the culture in which it's grown.
Padróns are easy to prep and cook; they do their best culinary work in the frying pan and aren't terribly expensive if you can find them locally, in season. Imported peppers from online Spanish gourmet purveyors will naturally fetch a higher price.
How to Cook With Padrón Peppers
The Spanish enjoy eating Padrón peppers as a tapa, simply fried in olive oil and sprinkled with flaky salt. They are typically cooked until the skin starts to soften and the pepper begins to collapse. Their sweetness comes out, but so does the heat—depending on which one you bite into. One out of 10 is likely to be hot.
In Spain, they're sometimes served with huevos rotos con patatas (fried eggs and potatoes). They can also be pickled or served with Spanish cheeses such as manchego.
If you can't find Padrón peppers and want to cook with them, shishito peppers, which are also small, green, and elongated, are a reasonable substitute. With shishitos, however, fewer of them are likely to be hot, so it's a little less risky for those who don't want watery eyes with their pepper consumption.
What Do They Taste Like?
When cooked, these peppers have an intense flavor—piquant, sweet, and a little nutty. Their flavor is addictive.
Similar to shishito peppers, not every Padrón will give you some heat. They range from 500 to 2,000 Scoville heat units. If you happen to bite into one that's on the upper end of the Scoville scale, it'll rank about half as hot as a jalapeño. This gamble is part of their appeal.
They aren't the best peppers for eating raw; when they're cooked, they taste completely different, and all their best attributes are on display.
Padrón Pepper Recipes
Because of their size and taste, Padrón peppers seem to be perfectly suited for their most popular cooking method: Fry them up quickly, toss them with some sea salt and lemon juice, and serve right away. They're typically served whole with the stems on.
You can also slice them lengthwise, stuff them with cheese (goat cheese is a good choice), and bake them. These peppers are also great grilled or roasted.
Where to Buy Padrón Peppers
Padróns are available in most supermarkets and produce markets around Spain. You're also able to find them in the U.S. and the U.K. Look for ones that are bright, firm, and with skins that show no signs of bumps, bruises, or wrinkling.
On the West Coast of the U.S., Happy Quail Farms produce and sell Padrón and other specialty peppers at farmers markets. In fact, they were the first farm to grow this pepper in America.
If you're lucky enough, you may spy these at farmers markets, in season. They tend to be highly coveted.
Fresh, these peppers can keep for one to two weeks stored in the crisper drawer, unwashed and in a plastic bag.
Like other peppers, hot or not, you can freeze Padróns. Wash and dry them, and then slice them according to how you'll cook with them later on: Slice them down the middle, chop them up, or leave them whole. The beauty of freezing peppers? You don't need to blanch them first, which means it's easy to stock up on them in season and freeze for later. It takes very little time and effort.
Nutrition and Benefits
Fiber and vitamins C, B6, and K are present in these peppers, along with some potassium, magnesium, and copper.
Padrón peppers were brought back to Spain from South America, where legend has it they were grown for their aphrodisiac properties.