"Paprika" is a loosely defined term. In a number of Eastern European languages, notably Hungarian, the word means simply "chili pepper," and it can refer to any variety of Capsicum annum that has been dried and ground.
WHEN CHARLIE Bodony presented his Port Townsend-grown alder-smoked paprika at Seattle’s sixth annual Farmer Fisher Chef Connection in February, locavore chefs were all over it. And what started as a pepper-growing hobby in 2007 started taking root as a full-fledged business.
“The Herbfarm ordered an ounce of every variety I sell,” says Bodony, referring to the Woodinville restaurant renowned for its reliance on high-quality local ingredients. “They wanted the whole range of flavors in their toolbox.”
And quite a range of flavors that is. Bodony lists five varieties of smoked pepper on his website (www.aldersmoked.com), and three varieties of dried peppers that are not smoked.
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“Paprika” is a loosely defined term. In a number of Eastern European languages, notably Hungarian, the word means simply “chili pepper,” and it can refer to any variety of Capsicum annum that has been dried and ground.
“Before they immigrated to Chicago,” explains Bodony, “my parents were Hungarian, from the region of Transylvania. So to me, dried peppers are paprika.”
In other places where there is no guarantee that foods will dry without assistance, smoke is employed to ensure a dried product that will store well. Spanish smoked paprika, known as Pimentón, is made from peppers of the bola variety, smoked over oak; it’s probably the smoked paprika most familiar to North Americans. Smoked jalapeño peppers from Mexico, known as chipotle, might be equally familiar, but they are smoked over mesquite. “Mesquite has a bitter taste,” says Bodony, “but I use alder, which has a sweet taste.”
I tried the alder-smoked jalapeño pepper, and I have to agree, behind the initial blast of surprisingly fresh-tasting pepper and pure capsicum heat, I detect a pronounced sweetness. As far as paprika varieties go, Bodony’s range from fairly hot to extremely hot.
“I decided to focus on hotter varieties,” he explains, because “in terms of sheer volume, I can’t compete with imported smoked paprika.” But the considerable heat his peppers pack does not trump the flavor of the peppers, which are interesting and complex, not unlike the man who grows them. Bodony has worked as a stagehand and a machinist, among other things.
“I loved being a stagehand,” he says. “Making magic for a living is not a bad way to go.” But a motorcycle accident in 1998 made it impossible for him to continue with such physical work. “I was killed. Literally. I was a flatliner.”
Fortunately, paramedics resuscitated Bodony in the helicopter on the way to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. “I was out of my body for a day and a half. And you know, an experience like that kind of changes your priorities.”
Still, Bodony does manage a certain amount of physical effort. He single-handedly designed and assembled a remarkable kinetic sculpture he calls “The Magic Bus,” which is regularly entered in the Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race. The workshop where he built the bus, and is building an improved version, is just a few steps from the greenhouse where he raises the peppers.
“I call it Costa Rica in here,” he says, opening the door to an 18-by-36-foot greenhouse he built with PVC pipe and plastic sheeting. “Even on a mild day, it can get up into the 80s in here,” he says, “and on a hot summer day, it will hit 115 degrees in here.”
Greg Atkinson is a Seattle-area chef, author and consultant. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Arroz Con Pollo, Some Like it Hott
The Piment d’Espelete alder-smoked paprika I purchased from Some Like it Hott in Port Townsend was a little too robust and not quite red enough for the Chicken Paprikash I tried making with it. But the chipotle quality of the smoked peppers prompted me to make this traditional Latin American dish. What makes this version unique is the addition of spicy sausages, smoked paprika and saffron. Oh, and beer, which replaces the more typical chicken broth.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound chorizo, or hot Italian sausage links, cut into 1/2-inch discs
6 boneless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium red bell pepper, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups long-grain white rice such as jasmine or basmati
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon Some Like it Hott brand smoked paprika, preferably the Piment d’Espelete variety
1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer
1 (14.5-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
1 cup water
1 generous pinch saffron threads
1 1/2 cups green peas, fresh shelled or frozen
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook the sausage pieces in the olive oil until they are lightly browned, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, lift the sausage out of the oil and keep nearby.
2. Sprinkle the chicken thighs with salt and pepper and brown them in the oil left in the pan, turning once to brown evenly on both sides, about 5 minutes in all.
3. Lift the chicken out of the pan, and in the oil left behind, sauté the onion and pepper until the vegetables are soft and the onion is beginning to brown. Stir in the rice, garlic and smoked paprika, then pour in the beer, the fire-roasted tomatoes, the water and the saffron threads. Bring the liquid to a boil.
4. Put the sausage and chicken pieces back in the pot, reduce heat to low, and cover. Simmer until the rice has absorbed the cooking liquid and the chicken is cooked through, about 35 minutes.
5. Five minutes before serving, stir in the peas and the parsley, cover the pan and let the finished dish rest undisturbed until the peas are heated through.
© Greg Atkinson, 2011