Who would have guessed paprika is from right here in America? You might think, as I did, that it comes from Hungary or Spain since hungarian and spanish paprika are the most prized varieties used today. In fact Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought it from the New World back to Europe.
I recently refilled my old plastic store-brand paprika container with a bulk version from Sawall’s Health Food Store. I’d never given much thought to paprika. Wasn’t it just for color–a garnish for deviled eggs or better color on fried chicken or goulash? I’m all for beautiful food, but if you can’t taste a difference, it doesn’t warrant much respect in the food world. That day I paid very little attention to the type I was buying. There were two options and I picked the cheaper one which happened to be smoked, maybe Spanish smoked, though I’m not sure since I bought it in bulk and only scribbled down the code for the cashier. The pricier option must have been Hungarian.
Holy smokes. Once I cooked with it I wanted to know more about this stronger, more aromatic paprika. It is a different beast. Actually, no, it’s just deeper, darker and more intense–the original’s hard-living rebel sibling. It’s like the difference between a ho-hum pork chop and bacon. And like bacon, when you add it to simple ingredients you get that double bass flavor of smoke that rounds out the taste of a dish, making the cook look genius.
All my mainstay chicken and seafood recipes calling for paprika taste better than ever and their juices have a more distinct earthy red hue. (Oh, smoked paprika, you’re making our dinner blush!) Family members think my cooking skills have drastically improved. But alas, it’s just a spice upgrade.
My husband put it in his potato salad and I’ve been using it in the place of cayenne pepper in things like hummus. Next I’d like to try it sprinkled in grilled cheese and on hot buttered popcorn.