Portuguese Red Pepper Paste

This Portuguese red pepper paste is my take on the classic massa de pimentão, made from red bell peppers and salt. This paste adds all the other ingredients popular in Portugal: wine, paprika, garlic, hot sauce, and herbs. It’s Portugal in a jar.

Silver spoon with a mound of Portuguese red pepper paste

Massa de pimentão is originally from the Alentejo province. The salty red pepper paste, a pantry staple, is a Portuguese classic and constitutes the major flavor component of the region’s cooking. Each cook has his or her own version. Some are made from fresh bell peppers that have been salt-cured, others rely on roasted peppers, still others turn to paprika. My family’s version follows. It’s richly flavored–think of it as a preseasoned rub–so all you have to do to make dinner is rub a little on beef, chicken, fish, or even peeled, halved potatoes before roasting. Although I have to say that this particular paste’s most famous—and deservedly so—application (although granted, I’m a little biased) is my Grandmother Costa’s Bread Dressing. Originally published October 17, 2012.David Leite

How To Use Portuguese Red Pepper Paste

David explains that red pepper paste is sorta like Asian fish sauce in that a little goes a loooooooong ways. As David mentions above, you can rub a little on a beef roast, chicken (both above and below the skin), fish, even peeled, halved potatoes before before roasting. Or you can stir it into stews or soups. It works wonders when stirred into mayo. And any other application you can imagine where you want or need a little bling. Then let us know how you used it in a comment below.

Portuguese Red Pepper Paste Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 10 M
  • 10 M
  • Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 2 tablespoons sweet smoked paprika
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine (60 ml)
  • 8 to 10 garlic cloves
  • 2 crumbled Turkish bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons store-bought or homemade tomato paste or 1 tablespoon double-concentrate tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 7 sprigs cilantro
  • 5 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (16 g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • Few dashes Piri-Piri sauce, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (60 ml)

Directions

  • 1. In a food processor, combine the sweet paprika, sweet smoked paprika, wine, garlic, bay leaves, tomato paste, lemon juice, cilantro, parsley, salt, pepper, and piri-piri sauce. 
Pulse until the garlic and herbs are minced, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary. With the motor still running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream and continue whirring until the mixture comes together in a slick, homogeneous paste, 1 to 2 minutes. Use the mixture immediately or spoon it into a small glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to a month.

Classic Red Bell Pepper Paste Variation

  • This classico approach to red bell pepper paste relies on salt-cured bell peppers for oomph. It’s a much saltier version of the paste than the recipe above, so use it with a judicious hand. Wash, stem, and seed 3 red bell peppers. Slice them into 1-inch-wide strips. Line a colander with cheesecloth and pour in about an inch of kosher salt. Press some of the strips into the salt and cover with another inch of salt. Continue layering until all the strips are covered. Top with a heavy pan. Place the colander in a large bowl and set aside at cool room temperature or 5 days. On the 6th day, fish out the bell pepper strips and brush off the salt but do not rinse. Purée in a food processor, transfer to a clean glass jar, and refrigerate until you need your next fix.
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Recipe Testers Reviews

While the recipe title may conjure up a pile of roasted red bell peppers with charred skins, this smoky paprika paste has none of those. In a very short 15 minutes of time, you will have a lovely red paste that can enhance the taste of chicken, pork, even some chicken noodle soup.

The smoky paprika flavor dominates the flavor profile. We stirred it into some homemade chicken noodle soup and it really amped up the flavor. Searching for how else to use it, we tried on chicken and sautéed shrimp. Coating it on chicken breast in the final minutes of cooking would be a delicious addition. Other ideas would be to mix with a bit of mayonnaise for a sandwich spread or create sauce for pork tenderloin. I think you could even make a vinaigrette for a salad with the addition of a nice and mild vinegar like cider, rice, or white wine vinegar.

Comments

    1. RCM911, many things. One use is for the stuffing in this meal. But it’s such a basic condiment in Portugal. It’s used in stews, vegetable dishes, roasts, grill meats, etc. My cookbook has many recipes that call for it. If you want a simple recipe: rub the paste under and over the skin of a chicken and roast it, occasionally brushing more on while cooking.

  1. Very yummy. Then I took your idea and Mexicanizsed it.

    4 or 5 roasted red Poblano chilies, roasted, peeled, seeded
    3 or 4 garlic cloves
    2 bay leaves
    2 Tbsp tomato paste
    juice of a small lime
    fresh cilantro, parsley and epazote
    salt and pepper
    Put it all in the food processor and added oiive oil

    Very tasty, I promise.

  2. I see some recipes for this online that say to roast the bell peppers first, is this a common thing in Portugal?

    1. Nuno, if you are making a classic massa de pimentão, no the peppers are ground raw. This recipe is something I created for my cookbook, The New Portuguese Table.

  3. I have made this pepper paste on multiple occasions, and every time I do, I am blown away by how flavourful it is for such minimal effort. It’s an excellent condiment to have on hand for last minute meals — adding a rich smoky-tangy depth and gorgeous hue to meats or veggies. I recently used it as a marinade for pork bifanas (and a side of pepper paste-rubbed roasted potatoes) and it was fantastic. Be sure to save some extra paste for the irresistible bread dressing mentioned in the headnotes of this recipe! A definite winner in this household.

    A bifana--Portuguese pork sandwich--with sauteed onions and peppers on a roll, on brown wrapping paper, sitting on grass

  4. This is heaven in a jar. There’s always some in my fridge and there are so, so many ways I use it. I have two favorites. You are absolutely right (as you so frequently are!) about stirring it into mayonnaise. With roasted potatoes, that’s divine. My other favorite use is to make massa de pimentão butter. It’s wonderful on steak or rubbed into chicken, melted over asparagus, green beans, woodchips! For breakfast, I smear some of the butter on good toast and top with mashed avocado. Okay, I need a moment…thanks for posting this.

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