pimentón (for Spanish paprika)
In American cooking, paprika, a spice made from dried ground chiles, seems to be used only to sprinkle over deviled eggs and potato salads; it looks pretty and doesn't taste like much. But heated, this spice blossoms, exuding a sweet flavor with rich earthy undertones and a heat level that ranges from gentle to spicy-hot, depending on the variety. All paprikas are made from the same family of peppers. Different varieties within this family account for the unique flavors and degrees of spicy heat found in different paprikas. Where and how it was made also add to the nuances of flavor. Most paprikas come from Hungary or Spain.
Hungarian paprika is available in several heat levels and grinds, including special, mild, delikatess, semisweet, sweet, and hot, but only the latter two are commonly found in the United States. Used in foods like kielbasa, chicken paprikás, and goulash, Hungarian paprika is especially good in rich dishes with sour cream, potatoes, egg noodles, cabbage, or meat. It can be used generously—think tablespoons.
Spanish paprika or pimentón differs from Hungarian paprika in that the chiles are dried over smoldering oak logs, giving them a smoky flavor. It comes in three heat levels: dulce, agridulce, and picante (sweet, bittersweet, and hot). It's a key ingredient in paella, chorizo, and many tapas dishes. It's delicious wherever you'd like a smoky flavor, but remember that smokiness can easily overwhelm a dish, so start experimenting by using only 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon.
You can substitute other smoked chile powders, such as chipotle, in place of pimentón, but the flavor profile will be a little different.
Both Spanish and Hungarian paprika are generally better than the generic paprika found in supermarkets. Spanish smoked paprika (preferably pimentón de la Vera) is mostly available in specialty groceries, but you should have no trouble finding Hungarian paprika in many supermarkets.
If heating paprika in oil, do so gently as it can burn easily.
Store it away from light and heat.