The Fun of Planting and Plating Padrón Peppers
With the East Bay’s wonderful Mediterranean climate, I’ve been able to grow everything from tomatoes to garlic to several varieties of peppers in our Oakland garden.
In March 2008, my wife, Sonia, brought home a packet of Padrón pepper seeds she picked up at Berkeley’s Spanish Table. Although an avid gardener for many years, I had never started anything from seed.
Even though I followed the directions and planted the seeds in tiny starter pots immediately, it wasn’t until July that the plants were large enough to move into the ground. That proved much too late to get a good crop, but we ended up with enough peppers to know that we loved their taste and we saved some of these new seeds for 2009.
This year, I had the starter sets in a sunny window by early January. The first shoots came up two weeks later. We have been enjoying these great peppers since early July.
The magic of Padróns happens when they are fried or added to a stew or casserole. Raw, they are pleasant; once heated, their flavor is truly special. We have had them fried in olive oil with garlic chips, then sprinkled over a steak. Sautéed with prawns or scallops is another favorite.
The fun thing about them is the difficulty in knowing whether a particular Padrón is hot or not. Only one out of every ten or so is “spicy,” and it may not even be the entire pepper – just part of it – that has capsaicin, the ingredient that gives peppers their heat.
Green Padróns are supposed to be mild, but do not count on that. Conversely, allowing them to grow longer and reach the red stage does not guarantee greater kick. Identifying the hot one is a crap shoot for those of us who like to live on the edge.
Because of the “is it or isn’t it?” factor, always use gloves when handling these beauties. Once the capsaicin is on your hands, you might find it very difficult to get off. Sonia learned the hard way. She had carefully scrubbed her hands, but, several hours later, she touched her eyes and felt as if they were on fire. She also discovered that, even the next day, her hands still could still deliver an unexpected burn.
Despite the risks, these have become our favorite pepper variety. Try growing them in your own garden. You can buy seeds at online sites such as Reimer Seeds.