The Main Ingredients

The Charleston Gazette


September 10, 2006

Smoky spice: Smoking enlivens ordinary paprika
Robert J. Byers and Tara Tuckwiller, Staff writers

Last December, we were browsing the eclectic row of shops and restaurants known as the Strip District in Pittsburgh. While I comparison-shopped for Steelers knockoffs, Tara stumbled onto a grail of sorts in the form of a Penzeys Spices store.

Within an hour, she had most of her Christmas shopping done and we were in possession of some cool new spices and spice blends for our home kitchen. Among those was a 4-ounce packet of smoked Spanish paprika. One whiff of its potent, smoky aroma and I nearly dropped my Terrible Towel.

Now, we have long been devotees of Hungarian paprika. We still keep both sweet and hot Hungarian on our spice rack for those times when smoky just won't do. But once you get hooked on this stuff, it's hard not to reach past the good ol' Pride of Szeged and try yet another experiment with the smoke: perhaps smoky chicken paprikash, smoky scrambled eggs or cabbage rolls.

Paprika comes from a little red chili pepper that is dried and finely ground. It's the same pepper used to make pimentos.

In the dark years, before the Hungarian version became more readily available in the U.S., bland, inferior grades of paprika were used mostly as a garnish -- like the sprinkle on top of deviled eggs or potato salad.

Spain is the world's other great purveyor of true paprika, where it is called pimentón. The smoked variety originates in La Vera, where the climate and true-to-tradition method of drying peppers in a sea of smoke from smoldering oak logs creates a deeply flavored spice.

In Spain, smoked paprika is an integral part of paella and chorizo sausage. It is also used widely in fish and tomato dishes.

Here in the U.S., smoked paprika is finding a home in spice rubs for chicken, beef or pork, and in warm potato dishes and stews.

If you aren't going to be in the Strip District or Penzeys anytime soon, you can order smoked Spanish paprika at or from the excellent online Spanish food merchant

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