Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Paprika doesn't work for me"

OK, I didn't mean to post twice in one day, but I was just reading a thread on Dave's Garden forums with this title, and was moved to reply. Reply I did, in what turned out to be copious detail (ah, when we get going, we GET GOING). Alas, I don't remember my Dave's Garden login, and I'm at TechShop laying out garden markers in Corel Draw, so I couldn't post it! As to why I'm reading Dave's Garden at TechShop, I'm looking up how many days various peppers take so I can put it on the markers, and every now and then my eyes wander. :-)

I have also found that there are LOTS of lovely paprika peppers out there that I am not currently growing, and that I need to fix that. My 'Stained Glass' peppers are most likely a hybrid of a generic 'Hungarian Paprika' seedling from OSH or Yamigami's Nursery and the 'Super Shepherd Frying' peppers I grew that year. I grow Turkish Alma and Pasilla Baijo but there are Leutschauer, Szegedi (maybe a landrace, but named after a region in Hungary), Dulce Rojo, Boldog, and I am sure many more.

Making Paprika Peppers Work for You

A couple of things... flavor of peppers, both sweet and hot, varies according to the soil. I've found my peppers have better flavor if I use greensand, organic eggshell, and other sources of minerals, as well as lots of good compost.

Step One: Soil & Ripeness

So, the first step in paprika flavor is the pepper itself. In addition to using lots of tasty soil amendments, you want to leave a drying pepper on the plant longer than you would for a fresh eating pepper. We pick eating peppers when they are glossy and bright. A spice pepper you should leave on until the color deepens and the fruit starts to lose its gloss. You want that fruit to have all the sugars and esters and orneriness that it would have if it were going to go completely to seed. Don't wait so long that it starts to get wrinkled or spotted-- that's too long, and you may have trouble drying it without spoiling. This is concentration one, full ripening.

Step Two: Drying

The second step in paprika flavor is drying the pepper. Don't cook it, don't oven-dry it, just hang it up on a line in a breezy indoor place out of direct sun. Stop drying when it's done: leathery, hard to tear, inner ribs are fully wizened. Don't leave it out on the porch all summer (who, me?! how would I know this? ;-) ) or it will lose a good chunk of flavor. This is concentration two, drying.

Step Three: Show It the Fire!

The third step is heating, ideally in oil. Taste a bit of the dry pepper. It is probably mostly sweet and kinda boring. Now grind or finely chop it (it should be dry enough to grind in a coffee/spice chopper) and heat it in oil. Boom, the taste comes out, including things you could swear were never there. This is concentration three, more properly, unlocking, as this is how you get those little boxes of flavor out where you can taste them.

Do I Have to Grind 'Em Up?

Heck no! I am naturally indolent, so I often just dry my pasilla baijo and alma paprikas and toss them in an old mason jar. I put a doubled piece of tulle in place of the lid, and let the jar sit a bit to make sure all the moisture is out, like when I dry beans. Then I toss a regular lid on them and put them in the cupboard, out of the sun. When I want to use them, I snip off a few matchstick strips, or just tear off a chunk and throw it in the slow cooker with beans. Slow-cooked kidney beans with most of a pasilla in the pot and plenty of onion-- makes even opening a can of good organic beans seem like eating dry cornflakes.

So don't give up on your spice peppers. Give 'em plenty of greensand, let them ripen to the point where they start to lose their gloss, dry them lovingly and carefully, and then reap a panful of awesome flavor on a cold dark winter day.

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