Culinary Russian Roulette: Pimientos de Padrón
Eating local is getting easier and more fun when local farmers are cultivating all sorts of interesting and delicious fruits and vegetables. I've said a few times before that even most ingredients for my Thai food are pretty easy to find locally. And recently I found something that got me all excited, Pimientos de Padrón, Padron peppers.
These little green pods are a staple at tapas bars in Spain, where they are simply cooked in lots and lots of olive oil over a slow heat until wrinkled and slightly brown, and served with a sprinkle of good salt. They are sweet, smoky, and delicious, with a light pang of heat. But that's not really the point of eating them, really. The entire point of eating Pimientos de Padrón, for a lot of people, is the culinary russian roulette aspect of it. You see, one in about ten of these deliciously mild peppers is super hot. Reaching Out For Beer Screaming hot. And the trick of it is, you never know which one. There is no physical characteristic or forensic clue to tell you, in plain view, which one is spicy and which isn't. You'll just know it when you bite into it. And it will always catch you by surprise, always. You begin with a little tentative step, taking a mini bite from the tip of each one, to make sure it wouldn't kill you before you eat the entire pod. And if you were me, before you knew it you'd be in the groove, eating a whole pod at a time in between bites of this and that, and perhaps a sip of beer or two. And that's when it hit, when you least expected. Got me every time. Don't say I didn't warn you.
In the Bay Area, Chris Cosentino, the chef at my new favorite restaurant, Incanto, love them so much he brought seeds back from Europe for Andy and Julia at Mariquita farm to cultivate. Chris was first to put them on his menu, but now you could find them at plenty of restaurants locally. Other farmers are growing them too, the people who sell sweet peppers (I forgot the name of their farm!) at the front of the ferry plaza on Saturday have them. Joe at Dirty Girl also harvests for his friend Geoff Palla at Meder St. Farm who moved up to Napa. I've even seen them once or twice elsewhere. Next time you see these peppers at the farmers market, try them. It will be fun, that I can promise you.
Cooking the Padrón is really easy, you hardly need a recipe. This is what I do, take a small pan, or a beautiful spanish Cazuela, put it on a low heat, add enough olive oil to cover about half inch from the bottom, arrange the Padrón pods on the pan when the oil is cold still. Keep turning, don't let the pods burn, until each pod is wrinkled and the clear skin seperates from the pod. Serve with a dusting of good salt. You can reuse the same oil to cook more peppers, like they do at tapas bars, or you could eat that smoky deliciousness with plenty of bread. Yum.