Padrón peppers – the story behind the recipe

Padrón peppers, fresh
Padrón peppers, fresh

It is not the most iconical Galician product, but maybe you’ve heard of Padrón peppers before your arrival. Yes, Padrón peppers, that kind of green and spicy chili peppers from Galicia… wait. Galician chiles? Yes, exactly. Didn’t you realize Galicia is full of  surprises?

The story

There is an amazing story behind the Galician craze about this tiny green peppers. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries the Franciscan convent of Herbón, in Padrón, a town 20 km South of Santiago had many missions all over the Gulf of Mexico, from Texas to Tabasco. And it was there where the monks began to grow chiles.

They brought some chile plants back to their home convent in Herbón where the plants adapted amazingly well, but soon realized those chiles were way too hot for the local taste so they began to harvest them unripe, still green and less spicy. They fried them in olive oil, sprinkled them with coarse salt and converted them in a local favourite snack.

A plant of Padrón peppers
A plant of Padrón peppers

But nothing is that simple in Galicia. Now you know the story and you probably would like to taste these chiles, but when you go to the market you will find Padrón peppers and Herbón peppers, and maybe, depending on the area, you’ll see other names like O Couto or Mougán peppers. Well, Padrón and Herbón peppers belong to the same variety. The difference is that Herbón (remember, that is the name of the convent where they were planted originally) peppers have a Denomination of Origin which means that they have to be grown in the Herbón area, harvested by registered farmers, fulfill certain quality standards and have to clearly show the Denomination of Origin label in their package, while Padrón is the name of the variety and when they are sold under that name they are not certified by the Denomination of Origin. You should expect to pay around 3€ for a bag of certified Herbón peppers, while Padrón peppers would cost aroud 1,80-2,20€.

O Couto and Mougán Peppers are close relatives and have similar stories, but they are grown in different areas of Galicia and has they own distinctive features. O Couto peppers are easier to find in A Coruña or Ferrol areas, in the Northern part of Galicia, while Mougán Peppers are easier to find in Lugo. Anywhere else Herbón (or Padrón) peppers are more usual.

A tapa of Padrón peppers
A tapa of Padrón peppers

Padrón peppers are a summer favourite. They can be found in markets all over Galicia from mid-June to October (if you find them during late autumn, winter or spring they won’t be harvested in Galicia. They may be from Southern Spain or Morocco and definetely not certified by the D.O.) and they are one of the most affordable tapas you’ll find.

From 4 to 6€ you’ll receive a whole dish of fried peppers, perfect to share. Sometimes a smaller portion is offered as a complimentary tapa. They are nice on their own, as a snack with your drink, but they also pair amazingly well with fried blue fish like sardines or tiny horse mackerels, with fried squid, boiled octopus or even grilled fish or red meat.

Padrón peppers have another distinctive (and funny) feature. As a local saying goes Os pementos de Padrón uns pican e outros non: Peppers from Padrón, some are hot and some are not. One or two in a bunch can be from slightly spicy to really hot (specially at the end of the season) so consider them a sort of culinary Russian roulette and enjoy the experience!

The recipe

Padrón peppers
olive oil
coarse salt

Pour abundant olive oil in a frying pan and heat it up.

Add the peppers and let them fry until they’re done: when the blisters start to appear on the surface and the meat looks a little tender.

Drain them on some kitchen paper and sprinkle them with coarse salt.

Tip: the olive oil should be hot but not too much because the peppers would burn while still undercooked inside.

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