Piment d’Espelette is one of the most sought-after chillies of all. It is grown only in the French part of the Basque country, and is the only chilli which has European Protection of Origin. Its limited availability makes it the Rolls Royce of the chilli world! However, it is as important for its unique flavour as its value.
The Basques (being lucky enough to be there at the source!) treat Espelette as a national treasure. It is harvested in September, and after it is picked the people of the area hang the chilli in garlands outside their houses to air-dry. Once dried, it is ground, and the resulting powder is the most beautiful rust-red colour.
The flavour of Espelette is unique – it is not hot, but it is deep, warm and fruity. It characterises the cuisine of the Basque country, in dishes such as piperade, and it is also made into a delicious savoury jam in the area. It is also used just as a seasoning or condiment; sprinkling this onto a dish just before serving is like sprinkling sunshine onto your plate!
Our favourite way of using Espelette is to make the classic chicken dish of the Basque country, adding a teaspoon or two to sweet peppers, tomato and garlic, then cooking it in the oven. Or you can use it to take fried or scrambled eggs to a completely different level, simply by sprinkling a little over them – you will not believe how good this is!
This is a ‘must-try’ for every chilli lover, and having some in your pantry means you have a genuine touch of luxury at hand. It is expensive, but its unique flavour means that a little goes a long way. And after all, everyone needs spoiling now and again!