Not so very long ago, Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika) was relatively exotic in the US. For those in the know, it was an impressive secret ingredient, capable of adding a mysterious smoky edge to any food—I’ve even added it to peaches.
Now that it’s gone mainstream, with McCormick selling smoked paprika in supermarkets, I’ve been wondering what the next pimentón might be. I’m hoping it’ll be Chilean merquén, because I think the world should know about this stuff. It’s a blend of smoked chile flakes, salt, cumin, and coriander made by the Mapuche, and indigenous people of Chile.
Many months ago, a colleague passed along a sample to me, but I’ll confess that I put it in my pantry and promptly forgot about it. Later, I was hunting for something to spice up a hash that I’d made, and lo and behold, there was that merquén. I sprinkled it on, took a bite, and yowza—what a flavor party! I went back for more…and more. It brings a salty, smoky kick of heat plus the fragrance of coriander and cumin. Since then, I’ve also used it as a seasoning on seared fish, a coating for a log of goat cheese, and as an infusion in olive oil for dipping bread—all delicious.
To learn more about the brand I tried, Etnia, visit www.etnia.cl. If you want to try it for yourself, it’s available from the Gourmet Import Shop on www.amazon.com.