Jarred never tasted so good…
For a chili pepper that most will only ever see coming out of a jar, the Spanish piquillo pepper (a.k.a. the little beak pepper) packs a real surprising and delicious flavor. They’re sweet peppers with modest heat – near imperceptible – with both smoky and tart undertones. Once experienced, piquillo peppers soon become a kitchen staple – perfect for puréeing into sauces, slicing for sandwiches, and stuffing with cheeses and meats. Look for them jarred in the gourmet food or international sections of your local grocer.
How hot are piquillo peppers?
Piquillos are about as close to no heat as you can get on the pepper scale: 500 – 1,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). That’s hotter than a pimento pepper, but with a ceiling of the mildest possible poblano pepper. To put this into perspective with our jalapeño reference point, piquillo peppers will range 3 to 40 times milder than a jalapeño, depending on the chilies used. That’s less than a simmer in spiciness; you’ll be hard-pressed to notice it, though heat is certainly not the defining factor of the flavorful piquillo.
Where do piquillo peppers come from?
They originate in the Navarra region of Northern Spain, and they are critical to the region, both culturally and economically. So much so that the piquillo has received European PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) protecting the pepper from commercial growing outside of the region. It’s similar to the Espelette pepper, which has France’s protective certification, or other protected food-based products like champagne and Parmesan cheese.
What do piquillo peppers look like?
Their alternative name, the little beak pepper (the actual meaning of “piquillo”) says it all. They have the shape of a small bird’s beak, three to four inches long and thinning to a point with quick curve near the end.
Piquillo peppers age from green to red and gain in sweetness as they age. It’s the red variety that you’ll discover in stores, but not in the fresh food aisles. These are typically canned or jarred, once the chilies have been roasted over a wood fire and peeled. In fact, you’ll often find remnants of charred skin on jarred piquillos.
Coming out of the jar, piquillos have a flat triangle shape. They appear delicate, and they are, as the piquillo’s walls are relatively thin.
What do piquillos taste like?
Piquillos have a sweet flavor with both smoky and tart undertones. There’s a surprising amount of complexity here, especially for a jarred product. But it’s because so much is done right in the process.
Once roasted, piquillos are, as mentioned, immediately pealed, then jarred in a mix of their own juices, salt, and citric acid. The chili maintains its delicious roasted flavor through it all, making piquillos an easy “pick it up and serve” chili pepper product.
How can you use these chilies?
Because of the way that piquillos are jarred (roasted, peeled, and whole), there’s a lot of versatility here.
They make excellent stuffing peppers right out of the jar for savory meats and cheeses. Given the peppers are immedialtely ready for stuffing, a jar of piquillos makes for a quick and delicious appetizer solution.
You can also chop or slice piquillo peppers for sandwiches or salads. Or simply use them sliced as a simple side with a little salt and pepper.
Another favorite use case: puréeing with olive oil and spices for a quick dip or sauce. The sweet, smoky, and tangy flavor plays very well as a dipping sauce for breads, crackers, and vegetable crudité.
Where can you buy piquillo peppers?
They can be purchased in most major grocery stores. Look for them in either the gourmet foods or international aisle. Or, you can buy a wide variety of imported piquillo pepper brands online if you’re hunting for just the right product.
So don’t let the jar fool you, these are delicious chilies that have a surprisingly fresh flavor, smoky and sweet. With their versatility, too, expect to give up pantry space to keep piquillo peppers close at hand. Few pepper products – if any – are more tasty in a pinch.