When I opened the little tin of Pimenton de la Vera, the aroma of sun-dried peppers, smoked-over-smoldering-oak-fires hit me full in the face. The pungent, vividly-colored spice from Andalucia that is the essential flavor in chorizo, triggered all sorts of associations and “what if’s”:
“What if I sprinkled some on warm smashed hard-boiled eggs, or a fried egg?…
…What if I rubbed a fat pork chop with it, along with salt and pepper?…
…Or stirred it into pasta sauce?…
…Or marinated a goat cheese or some Manchego in olive oil and pimenton?…
…or roasted almonds with a dusting of it….
…Or sprinkled on a grilled cheese sandwich…or macaroni an cheese” Mac-and-cheese!
I tried out all these ideas and more as the pimenton became my new favorite taste: a bit of smoke and earth.
It’s miracle stuff. A pinch of pimenton can provide a layer of flavor to a dish that needs “something” or provide inspiration on it’s own. The other night I used it to build in a subtle level of flavor to the most beloved appetizer in Spain: shrimp simmered in a bath of extra-virgin olive oil robustly flavored with garlic. You eat the shrimp and dunk crusty bread in the delicious oil as you sip chilled bone-dry Sherry like La Gitana. I also drizzled in a little Sherry vinegar, which added a lively savor.
Shrimp in Olive Oil, Garlic and Smoky Paprika is the perfect appetizer, or meal even, especially in summer when garlic is at its best. Once you’ve prepped the few elements, the dish takes only a few minutes to cook, so it can be done at the last minute; serve it right out of the pan.
Pimiento de la Vera from Andalucia, Spain is available in the spice section of gourmet markets and by mail-order from Zingerman’s or La Tienda. It is available in mild (dulce), medium hot (agridulce), and hot (picante).
Recipe: Shrimp in Olive Oil, Garlic and Smoky Paprika
The success of this dish depends upon really fresh garlic, that is firm and unsprouted; do not use commercial minced garlic in oil.
Serves 4 as appetizers
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 pound medium-small shrimp (about 20), peeled and deveined
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves
1/8 teaspoon smoky sweet paprika (Paprika de la Vera) or a small dried chile pepper (broken in half) or a scant 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar, Banyuls or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
Pat the shrimp dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.
Halve the garlic cloves lengthwise and remove the green sprout. Mince or finely grate the garlic. (You will need 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon.)
In a heavy medium skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add the shrimp to the pan in one layer, along with the garlic and pimenton. Cook the shrimp about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes on each side, until they are pink and barely opaque, with a slight translucence (do not overcook).
Add the vinegar and parsley and shake to combine. Serve at once.
Note: to freshen up the flavor of frozen shrimp, soak them for 10 minutes in a brine made from 1 1/3 cup water and 1 tablespoon sea salt (or 2 tablespoons kosher salt). Drain, rinse and pat dry. Do not salt further.