Adds a soft heat to dishes
Piment d’Espelette is a coarsely powdered chilli pepper coming from the Basque area of France. It is a deep orangey red in colour, and has a more subtle flavour than chilli powder with an almost underlying smokiness. As such it is more akin to paprika. It is so highly regarded in France that it has attained AOC status (appellation d’origine controlee).
The Espelette chilli pepper is grown in a restricted 3000 acre area centred on the town of Espelette, but also covering a further ten villages in the region. The chillis are harvested in September and then hung out to dry in the villages, often from balconies like garlands, so important is this ingredient to the livelihood of the region. In October the Espelette Pepper Brotherhood (Confrerie du Piment) organises a festival to celebrate the harvest and thousands of tourists flock to the town for the occasion.
In south west France the traditional use of the chilli is for curing Bayonne hams, as well as being used in Basque cooking such as the delicious piperade – a dish made from onions, peppers and tomatoes, flavoured with the essential piment d’Espelette, into which eggs are incorporated. I have tried it successfully in chilli con carne, in soups, and in tomato sauces for pasta, but you just need to add more than you would if you were using chilli powder. However, the Espelette Brotherhood also promote its use in desserts such as Le Gateau Basque. It is one of those ingredients that can be used when you need a little gentle heat.
A soft touch
Maison Arosteguy Piment d'Espelette
Availability and price as at 1st September 2017