Padrón Pepper: Culinary Russian Roulette

| Last Updated: February 13, 2020 |

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Some are hot, some are not…

Padrón pepper fast facts:

  • Scoville heat units (SHU): 500 – 2,500 SHU
  • Median heat: 1,500 SHU
  • Origin: Spain
  • Capsicum species: Annuum
  • Jalapeño reference scale: Equal heat to 15 times milder
  • Use: Culinary
  • Size: Approximately 2 to 4 inches long, curved
  • Flavor: Earthy, Nutty, Sweet

Every chili pepper has a heat range, but very few pack the spicy surprise that the Padrón pepper does. 90% of the time these Spanish chilies (also known as Pimento de Padrón) are some of the mildest on the planet. And then there’s the one that bites. That one delivers an unexpected punch equaling a jalapeño. It makes Padrón peppers as fun to eat as they are tasty. They are well-loved pickled but pan-fried with olive oil and sea salt as a tasty tapas is where this chili really shines.

How hot are Padrón peppers?

On paper, these chilies appear to have a very similar Scoville heat unit spread as many other chilies do (500 – 2,500 SHU). But there’s a big catch with the Padrón pepper. Most of the time (about 90%) they fall on the very mild end of the scale. That creates one of the greatest false senses of security on the pepper scale. Because every so often (that other 10%), you get a whammy. That Padrón chili – which received more water and sun when growing – will reach jalapeño heat.

It makes Padrón peppers a lot of fun to eat – a lot like the shishito pepper. It’s impossible to know which chili will bring the punch in a batch, so it’s a lot like culinary Russian roulette. One in every ten or so peppers will fire up someone’s mouth.

What do they look like and taste like?

Padrón peppers grow to two to four inches in length. They have a curved shape similar to a jalapeño, but they tend to have a more grooved and creviced skin. They age from green to an orange-red, and like other chilies, you’ll get more heat from the more mature chilies. Though, it’s the green chili that’s the most popular for the kitchen.

Padron Pepper

The taste of the green Padrón pepper is rich: earthy (nearly nutty) and sweet. When pan-fried and charred, it’s a flavor that translates very well with the smoky tastes from the cooking. The pepper’s flesh, too, nearly melts in your mouth when prepared in this way.

What’s the history of these chilies?

Any chili that’s named after a location and that has its own festival, most definitely has a rich history. Padrón peppers made their way from South America to Spain as early as the 16th century. They are named after the village of Padrón (population ~9,000), which is nestled in the Northwest corner of the country and this pepper’s primary growing region. Over 33,000 pounds (15,000 kilograms) of Padrón peppers are grown in the Padrón area each year.

The village of Padrón – like other cities with rich chili heritages – hold a festival celebrating their popular pepper each year. The Fiesta del Pimiento de Herbón draws thousands from around the world to enjoy the unique taste and heritage of the Padrón pepper. It’s another definite stop for hot pepper culinary travel.

How are Padrón peppers used?

They are most popularly eaten pan-fried with olive oil and coarse sea salt. It’s a classic tapas that started in Spain and has spread around the world. Pickled Padrón peppers are also a global favorite. You can use them as you would any other pickled chili – on sandwiches, pizzas, and salad toppings. They also make good stuffing peppers, and the chili’s nutty flavor tastes terrific with many kinds of cheese.

The mature red form of these chilies is sometimes dried and ground into a paprika-like chili powder as well, but it’s not the most common use. The younger fresh green form of the chili is where this pepper really shines.

Where can you buy Padrón peppers?

Some well-stocked supermarkets carry the fresh chilies, but if you’re out of luck, try local farmer’s markets. Since these chilies are best prepared fresh, you also won’t find much luck online. Though, Padrón pepper seeds are widely available there if you want to grow them yourself.

Once you do discover your best location for buying, Padrón peppers will no doubt deliver in the kitchen. Their simple pan-fried preparation is one of the greatest rustic culinary treats you’ll ever experience. It’s worth the time to seek them out.

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  • I grow padrons in my garden every summer. The plants are really tough and vigorous. With good soil, compost, water, and sun, a single plant can get 5 feet tall and will produce more peppers than you can possibly eat. They will need staking, or grow them in a tomato cage. I’ve found that the degree of spiciness really depends on the size of the pepper. Up to about 2 inches long, most will be mild or just mildly spicy. Past that, they get hotter and hotter and hotter. If you leave them on the plant until they turn red, they may be hotter than a jalapeno. I pick the smaller ones for frying. If they’re about 3 inches long, they make great poppers (stuffed with cream cheese and roasted). I save the biggest ones for a friend who likes to grill them on the BBQ. Her family is from Mexico and they love the really hot ones.

    After frying the padrons in olive oil and sea salt, I like to serve them with thin crackers, slices of manchego cheese, and heirloom tomato slices, and a crisp white wine. Salud!

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