Pronounced pick-ee-yo, Piquillo peppers are sweet, tangy, and just ever so slightly spicy. Essentially the perfect gateway pepper for the apprehensive chili eater, these Spanish peppers are an established favorite amongst Los Angeles chefs, and here’s why.
Their namesake translating to “little beak,” these ruby red capsicums are appreciated for their piquant, fruity flavor. Grown in northern Spain, the chilis are harvested by hand, before being fire roasted, then peeled and packed in jars.1 Found in many grocery stores or specialty food stores, Piquillos can also be eaten fresh; however, their outer skin is quite thick and tough, making for a labor of love and often discouraging the average layman from preparing salsas or other raw dishes. When fresh, they look similar to Fresno chilis or red jalapeños.
The process of roasting over an open flame is an essential component to the pepper’s distinct flavor and texture. By charring the outer skin, the interior flesh takes on a vague smoky flavor, tenderizes slightly, and releases from the exterior. The charred skins are then rubbed off, and to preserve their natural flavor, the chilis are packed into jars with a combination of oils, spices, and water. Olive oil is the most common medium with grapeseed oil at a close second.
Piquillo peppers, not surprisingly, routinely show up on Spanish tapas menus. The ruby red peppers can be eaten in almost any form—from stand alone to part of a charcuterie board to a more intricate preparation. Often times, they serve as the vehicle in which savory fillings are housed then roasted or fried.
This very versatile ingredient can be introduced into your home kitchen with as much effort as it takes to open a jar. Literally. Not to mention they have become so mainstream, Piquillos are readily available anywhere from Von’s to Dean & DeLuca. If your food nerdiness is super-high on the Richter scale like mine is, you should pick up a couple different brands and taste to see which your prefer the best. In fact, make a party out of it! Why not have a charcuterie-tasting party? Display a couple different versions of the peppers on a board in their purest state; serve with a little baguette and some Spanish olives alongside.
Another amazing way to eat these with a just a little effort is to make a sauce. Whiz the entire jar of peppers in a food processor with a splash of olive oil, 4 to 5 garlic cloves, ¼ cup of toasted almonds or pistachios, an anchovy fillet (don’t turn up your nose!), and a couple pinches of dried or fresh oregano. Season the sauce to taste and serve with grilled chicken or fish. This crimson, aromatic sauce will truly impress your guests, and with any luck, it will turn everyone to the many faces of chili peppers—they’re not all created equal!
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