Spice it Up: Happy National Pepper Month!

One of the many lessons I learned while cooking in restaurants: season as you go. At every stage of the recipe, add salt and pepper, salt and pepper. They’re magical things. They amplify the flavors of whatever they touch. Grind some black pepper and sprinkle some fleur de sel over anything great–our hand-pulled mozzarella; a juicy, ripe tomato;  some crusty baguette with a generous smear of sweet butter–and life is grand.

Black pepper is a pretty flowering vine.  It’s the fruit (the peppercorn) which is cultivated, dried, and used as a spice. Black pepper is cooked and dried unripe fruit; green pepper is dried uncooked unripe fruit; and white pepper consists of the dried ripe seeds of the peppercorn. White pepper has an entirely different quality than black–funky, almost stinky.

Black pepper is the world’s most traded spice. It’s been used in South East Asia for thousands of thousands of years, for seasoning, medicine, ritual. Black peppercorns were placed in the nostrils of the mummified Egyptian King Ramesses II in 1213 BCE. Pepper was like gold–so valuable it was sometimes used as currency. The search for trade routes to secure valuable, rare pepper was a big reason for the Age of Discovery.

And! But!  Black peppercorns are several and they each have their own qualities.  We at Fairway believe of sarawak, lampong and tellicherry, tellicherry offers the most heat, fruit and nuance.  The other two are the equivalent of robusto coffee beans as compared to arabica. 

Flash forward to a time when pepper is ubiquitous. It’s still powerful, dish-transforming, and wonderful. Some pepper tips: Pepper can  lose its sharp flavor when exposed to light, so keep your pepper behind the shut doors of your cabinet. Once ground, pepper’s aromatics evaporate quickly. This is where the handy Fairway peppercorn grinder comes in handy–grind directly into your recipe for ultimate, fresh spice.

Pepper doesn’t end with black, green, and white pepper. A pink peppercorn is a dried berry of the South American plant Schinus molle, commonly known as the Peruvian peppertree, a completely different species. Pink peppercorns have a fruity, tangy flavor. Then there’s long pepper, a prized ingredient in Indian pickle dishes and North African spice mixtures, which is funky and pungent.

Chili peppers belong to a whole ‘nother genus, along with sweet bell peppers, banana peppers, cayenne peppers, cherry peppers and jalapeños. But they’re peppers too: a secret weapons to add a one-two-punch of serious flavor.

Celebrate November, National Pepper Month, with these pepper-centric recipes:

Roasted Butternut Squash

Butcher Shop Chili

Stuffed Peppers

Spicy Broiled Chicken with Lemon

And for dessert–grind a bit of black pepper over the best vanilla ice cream you can find. You won’t be sorry.

 

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