Massa de Pimentão (Sweet Red Pepper Paste)

The word “umami” gets thrown around so liberally that I almost dare not use it here.  Portuguese cuisine has many flavor enhancers used in recipes to add layered flavors like flavored bouillon cubes, fortified wines  and the smokiness of chouriço but massa de pimentão (sometimes also spelled pimento) is by far my favorite.  Massa de Pimentão is basically a red pepper paste that is used to season stews, marinades and added to dishes like camarões a guilho (Portuguese version of shrimp scampi).  Massa de Pimentão has its origins in the cuisine of the Alentejo in south-central Portugal and is a paste made from salted fermented sweet red peppers.  While typically made at home you can buy it online or at Portuguese supermarkets in the Northeast US.  Adding the paste to marinades,  poultry, fish, meats,  and vegetables gives off that umami everyone likes to talk about.  It imparts a rich salty/sour component that boosts the flavors of dishes it is added to and adds richness.  The consistency is not unlike tomato paste and like similarly it can bind a stew or sauce.  I use it in my oxtail stew whose omission will negatively impact the dish’s rich flavor and consistency.  I will soon post a marinade for Portuguese oven baked spareribs where massa de pimentão is the major flavor component.  Although I never made it at home the preparation is easy but it takes time.  You can find many versions online and I think Saveur magazine has an excellent one.