A couple of weeks ago, I made my inaugural visit to Penzeys Spices, a chain that happens to have a location here in St. Louis. I prefer to buy most of my spices and herbs at Golden Grocer, a small, locally owned, natural foods store that sells a variety of spices and herbs in bulk.
I favor this option because 1) bulk containers mean I can bring my own bags (plastic, yes, but I’m reusing them) and then fill my glass spice jars at home; 2) I can buy a 2-3 month supply and avoid buying a too-large amount of some obscure seasoning that turn to sawdust long before I use it; and 3) I haven’t done any official price comparisons, but I’m pretty sure I come out ahead financially with this option compared to buying prepackaged jars in a regular store.
Anyway, over the past couple of years, we’ve heard good things about, and seen some interesting recipes featuring, smoked paprika (which Golden Grocer does not carry). When we found ourselves in the neighborhood of Penzeys after a visit to the Maplewood Winter Market, we walked on over to investigate. We came out with smoked paprika, szechuan peppercorns, and one other item that I don’t remember right now.
Sadly, Penzeys does not have bulk containers that you can use to fill your own bags, so we left with some unnecessary packaging. We asked the cashier if they had ever considered offering bulk jars, and she acted like it would be nigh unto impossible. Sigh.
Anyhow, we put the Szechuan pepper to use as soon as we got home, incorporating it into our lunch stir-fry. We were enjoying the flavor, until, a few bites into our meal, we noticed that we couldn’t really feel our tongues. It wasn’t that it was spicy hot, it just had this disconcerting effect. Apparently this is a “normal” effect of this pepper. We ended up picking out most of the peppercorns because the tingly numbness was just weird and made the dish less enjoyable. I’m not sure what we’ll end up doing with the remaining 4 oz. of the pepper.
Later that same week, I experimented with the smoked paprika. I made a super simple smoked paprika cream sauce as a topping for polenta with sauteed mushrooms and asparagus.
To make the cream sauce, I toasted the smoked paprika (~2 t.) in a bit of olive oil on the stove top — about 5 minutes on low heat. Then I whisked in a half cup of cream and left it on the heat until just warmed. I added salt to taste.
The result? Delicious! I resisted the temptation to eat the smoked paprika cream sauce by the spoonful (well, mostly resisted), because it went fabulously with the mushrooms and polenta. This sauce would taste good on a variety of things — pasta, scrambled eggs, other veggies — let the experimenting begin!
The photo evidence of my creation suffered from poor light conditions — I’m sharing anyway, but be forewarned, the photo does NOT do justice to the deliciousness.