Padrón Pepper Roulette

Peppers present a world of flavor that can quickly lead to a world of pain. The taste of burning, to paraphrase Ralphie Wigam, that spicy peppers produce is capsaicin going to town on the taste buds.

When it comes to culinary roulette, there’s nothing quite like the Spanish tapas dish pimientos de padrón. The small, bright green peppers are usually mild but, as the story goes, every tenth pepper packs a spicy wallop. The sought-after peppers are in season now and will be around for about a month more.

Chef Seamus Mullen, previously of the restaurant Boqueria, notes that padrón peppers only became available in the States about five years ago, when a few farmers in California and New Jersey began growing them. Now, padróns can be found from Lani’s Farms at the Union Square farmers’ market. Japanese shishito peppers from Eckerton Hill Farm are often used as a substitute when padróns are scarce.

“There are only specific regions of Spain where they really like spicy food,” says Mullen. “Pimientos de padrons are one exception where they really like to bend the rules and say we’ll have it if it’s spicy. It sort of becomes this festival thing. So, there’s a lot of beer being guzzled when the hot pepper falls.” He adds that alcohol only makes the spiciness worse.

Tim Stark of Eckerton Hill Farm explains why that errant pepper is so much spicier than its siblings. “There are various reasons why that could be,” he says. “One may be that one of the padróns grew in a part of the field that got more stressed. Another could be that it could have been cross-pollinated with a hotter variety of pepper.”

Mullen notes that, in Spain, padróns are almost exclusively served blistered with a sprinkling of coarse salt. However, once the peppers get bigger later in the season, they can also be stuffed with tetilla cheese, like a Spanish version of a stuffed jalapeno. Unconventional, but delicious.

To make pimientos de padróns in the traditional, tapas manner, just drop the peppers in smoking hot olive oil for a few minutes. Drain them, and then sprinkle them with coarse salt.