Espelette (Piment d’Espelette) – The Most Versatile Chile Powder

There are some things in life that make people smile. Usually a baby laughing, or a puppy that is playing and joyful, a beautiful sunny day. For me, it is Espelette powder.

There are some interesting things about Espelette and what makes it so amazing. First off, it is similar to Champagne. Champagne is a sparkling wine that is specific to the Champagne region of France. You can grow the same grapes, and go through all the same processes, however if it is made anywhere other than the Champagne region of France, it is called sparkling white wine. Espelette peppers are grown in the northern part of the Basque region of France. While these seeds may be grown in various places around the planet, only peppers grown in this specific region and following strict controls are given the AOC (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) Certification.

My understanding is that the Espelette Chile made it’s way to France from Mexico by ways of Christopher Columbus. The climate of the area around Espelette was similar to it’s home in Mexico. It was quickly adopted into the local culture, and has continued to grow there for more than 350 years.

Espelette Chiles are planted in the spring. These chiles are cultivated in small areas, and are respectful to the environment. The use of pesticides and irrigation are strictly regulated. The chiles are hand picked when they first start to turn red. They are still dried using the same method used for centuries. Chiles are hung from the facades of the homes and dried in the open air.

I find this chile powder to be extremely versatile. It is not a fine powder. It is somewhere between a fine flake and a coarse powder. The texture is great for many different applications. However this is just the beginning of the amazing Espelette. It is not a hot chile pepper. It has a mild heat, with fruity tones and a smooth flavor. It doesn’t have the sharp bite that you get from many chiles, and could almost be considered to be on the sweet side. Many recipes that I have read say Paprika or Smoked Sweet Paprika work as a substitute. They can work as a substitute, but it’s not the same. It would be like substituting a mix of milk powder and water in place of heavy cream. It may get the job done, but it certainly isn’t the same.

In the past I had used Chile Flakes for many of my recipes. While the chile flake still has it’s place in the kitchen (the need for heat and a sharper chile flavor), it pales in comparison to Espelette Powder. The flavors of Espelette seem to blossom when cooked. I have used it in pasta dishes with amazing results. Because of it’s low heat level you can add a little more and gain more of the chile flavor, without melting your taste buds. I also use it religiously on meat rubs and seasonings. Prior to most meats hitting my smoker or grill, they will receive a dusting of one of my spice blends. Most if not all of these blends have Espelette Powder in them. I’ll share a couple of my favorites below.

I highly recommend picking up some Espelette Powder. It will change your view of chile powders and will revolutionize your recipes for the better. Everyone I have suggested it to, has tried it and been pleasantly surprised to  downright shocked and amazed.

Rub for Smoking Meats

Grilled Chicken or Pork

Burger seasoning