Gill Meller’s secret ingredient: smoked paprika

<span>‘A great addition to fish soups and stews, not necessarily for that smoky hit, but for umami depth.’</span><span>Photograph: Tim Hill/Alamy</span>
‘A great addition to fish soups and stews, not necessarily for that smoky hit, but for umami depth.’Photograph: Tim Hill/Alamy

Whether at the fore or as a gentle hint, smoked paprika always plays its part quite nicely. It has a deep, savoury hit, and using a little can go a long way.

One of the things I’ve done for years, and encourage people to try, is make my own chorizo sausage. It’s super easy and quite rewarding. But it all starts with some good free-range, organic minced pork, preferably belly or shoulder, and some really good paprika. I add three types: a really good smoked paprika, a sweet paprika, and a hot paprika. Then I mix in fennel seeds, garlic, a little bit of red wine and salt, then give it a really good tumble. If you add enough salt, say 2% (so, for 1kg of mix, add 20g salt), it will actually preserve the mixture, and you can pop it in the fridge, and it will last for a week to 10 days. Or you can freeze batches of it, too.

Then you can use that mix in all sorts of different recipes. What I really love doing is wrapping it around eggs to make chorizo scotch eggs. It’s absolutely delicious, and the smoky flavour with the eggs is always a winner. You can use it in pasta sauces, you can make wonderful smoky chorizo meatballs, you can make sausage rolls with the mix.

I use it when I saute or roast potatoes. I boil potatoes in salted water, rough them up, then they go into a tray of hot oil and I scatter over a good couple of teaspoons of smoked paprika, cracked coriander seed, chopped rosemary, garlic, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and roast until everything’s lovely and crunchy.

It’s a great addition to fish soups and stews, not necessarily for that smoky hit, but for umami depth. It’s weird because it’s not a fermented spice as such, and you wouldn’t consider it necessary to have that umami flavour. I think that the smoking process of the peppers just gives it a very unusual, deep savoury note. When I’m making fish soups, I sweat down celery, onions, garlic and fennel, and I add the smoked paprika, lemon zest, bay, some chopped tomatoes, then fish stock, and that gets simmered up. And then the fish goes in at the end.

You can make your own smoked paprika at home just using a good sweet paprika. If you’ve got the wherewithal to set up a little cold smoker – and it’s not difficult, you can buy little cold smoker sets.

If you lay a tray of sweet paprika out, you can cold smoke it and make wonderful smoked paprika that you can then jar up and have on the shelf ready to use.

It’s wonderful with all sorts of vegetables. One of my favourite salads is roast cauliflower and smoked paprika. You break the cauliflower into florets, tumble it out over a roasting tray, add olive oil, lots of smoked paprika, salt and pepper, red onions, then roast that and tumble it with sliced preserved lemon, coriander seed, fresh coriander and a yoghurt dressing. Its smoky flavours work fantastically with the sweetness of carrots. It’s very good with chicken and steaks. I finish taramasalata with smoked paprika for a double-smoked hit – and it looks cool. And however you like your eggs – scrambled, omelette, frittata – a little sprinkling of smoked paprika is probably going to improve them.

Gill Meller is a chef and food writer. His latest book is Outside (Quadrille, £30); @gill.meller