Friday, May 13, 2016

Piment d’Espelette - The Pepper from Espelette in the Basque Country. Pimenete d'Esplette is Most Popular Chili Pepper in France.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
The Espelette chili pepper
In the Basque language, the Espelette Pepper is  Ezpeletako Biperra.
The Piment d'Espelette is the unique chili pepper of the Pays Basque, the French Basque Country, in South Eastern France. Traditional Basque cuisine is very diverse, but unifying many of the dishes in traditional and modern Basque cuisine is the Basque Chili Pepper, the Piment d'Espelette The pepper is hand-picked, and the use of pesticides is very limited.
Peppers drying on a hotel in Espelette.
Photograph courtesy of Avi Dolgin
The small town of Espelette, along with another nine nearby villages in the department Pyrénées-Atlantiques grow these peppers.   In season visiting the villages is an amazing sight with the drying peppers on the balconies and windows on more than half the houses.
Selling the Piment d’Espelette.
For the visitor, the pepper on its own is not the only product that is sold in the area.  Local shops offer anything made with the pepper; for example, cheeses and chocolates flavored with the Piment d’Espelette.  (Of historical interest is the first chocolate seen in France was made in Bayonne, just 24 km (14 miles) away from Espelette. There, a few years before the arrival of chili pepper in Espelette, the city of Bayonne saw the arrival of Jewish refugees escaping the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisition. These immigrants brought chocolate drinks and cakes which had not been available in France before).
The Hotel Euskadi in Espelette
Piment d'Espelette is appreciated in the rest of France and in many other cuisines with over 20% of the production exported.  There are many other chili peppers available in France, but the Piment d'Espelette has a unique taste and aroma that separates it from the others.    Freshly (Dried) peppers are available, but the largest sales of the Espelette pepper come from its sale as a powder,  for chefs and homes the powdered pepper easily controls the taste.
Leaving Espelette?
Piment d’Espelette on French menus:
Côte d'Agneau Grillées à l'Ail et au Piment d'Espelette – Rack of lamb grilled over garlic and the Piment d’Espelette
Removing the seeds reduces the spiciness.

Crevettes Géantes Poêlées, Sel de Guérande au Piment d'Espelette –  Large shrimps fried with the salt from Guerande and the Piment d’Espelette.

The Guérande sea salt is hand-harvested in Brittany, and many chefs consider the Guérande salt as having a fuller taste than Mediterranean sea salt. When the Guérande  or another special salt is used it will be noted on the menu.

Filet De Maigre Cuit à l'Unilatérale, Sauce Piperade. Filet of Meagre, Croaker, the fish, cooked on the unilateral, with a sauce piperade.

Frying fish à l'unilatérale is frying with the skin side down. Cooking through from single side only is a form of slow cooking, but À l'Unilatérale allows the fish to maintain its original texture which can be lost when the fish is cooked on both sides

Pipérade or Sauce Piperade began in the Pays Basque as a simple sauce made with olive oil, lightly fried onions, tomatoes, sweet peppers and the red peppers of Espelette.  
Sardines with Piment d’Espelette ready for the grill.

Suprême De Poulet Au Piment d'Espelette – Breast of chicken flavored with the Piment d’Espelette.

Every menu in the Pays Basque will offer Basque Cider. The Basque claim that their cider apples are the great-great - - grandfather or grandmother of all other cider apples.
prepared with red onions, capers and the Piment d’Esplette.

Tournedos De Magret De Canard Au Piment d'Espelette – A thick cut of duck breast cooked with Piment d’Espelette.

Pasta, vegetables and Piment d’Espelette.
Terrine De Saumon Norvégien Aux Écrevisses Et Piment d'Espelette – A pate of Norwegian Salmon made with freshwater crayfish and Piment d’Espelette.
Risotto with cuttlefish ink, calamari and the Piment d’Espelette with Parmesan cheese.
The chili pepper arrives in Espelette
Chile peppers came to France in the 16th century following Christopher Columbus’s return from his second voyage to South America. Since then Europe and all other continents have been creating their own hybrid chilies from the many originals.  When you are in the Basque country, the promoters of their unique chili pepper will explain the differences of the Piment d'Espelette. There are hotter chilies, but the Piment d’Espelette was first used to replace black peppercorns, and that is about as hot as it gets. Nevertheless, as noted, in powder form, its aroma and spiciness are easily controlled.
Piments d’Espelette ready to be picked
In the Pay de Basque, the French Basque country, the Piments d’Espelette is  also sold on strings of 12 or 20 peppers.
There is an annual Piments d’Espelette  festival organized by Confrérie du Piment d'Espelette, the brotherhood, and sisterhood of the Knights of the Espelette pepper.  These stalwart knights will make sure that no cheap imports of low-quality peppers are allowed and they work during the year to promote their chili pepper. This fete has been held during the last weekend in October for over 40 years and attracts over 20,000 tourists annually.
Roasted, lamb, Esplette pepper, garlic and olive seasoning. Herbs, tiny artichokes "poivrade"
Photograph courtesy of Fredrik Vraalsen

You may see the English language website for their fete of the Piment d'Espelette at:
English language website for the village of Espelette:
Espelette Tourist Information office, click on the correct flag on the first page and it will change to English.
If you are traveling near Espelette look at the incredibly short distances for visiting other highlights alongor close to the coast in the department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques
Distances from Espelette:
Bayonne:  the capital of the French Pays Basque and so famous for the Bayonne Ham that bears its name. It is just 22km (14 miles) away.

Biarritz: with its beaches and spas is 24 km (16 miles) away.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz: the fishing port with its own fete and festivals, is just 23 km, (15 miles) away

The beach at Saint-Jean-de-Luz
Irouleguy: the smallest wine appellation in France with just 1000 acres for vines; that is, four square kilometers (1.5 sq miles). Irouleguy. Is just 24 km (16 miles) away, The wine is pronounced ear-rool-eh-gee.
Red wine from Irouleguy
Powdered peppers
The deep-red color, mild heat and smoky-sweet flavors make many who have not tasted the spice think that it is comparable to paprika; however try them together and you will immediately taste the difference. French chefs use a number of different chili peppers each appreciated for its unique taste.
According to local lore, the origins of the Espelette Pepper date back to the early 1500’s when a Basque sailor who had traveled with Christopher Columbus brought chili peppers to the Basque Country. These peppers were first used medicinally and then later for conserving meat and ham.
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
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