A single cluster of peppercorns, plucked in India, displays both the immature green berries, as well as dried black and mature red peppercorns.
One of the great pleasures in my life might not seem like much: Now that Angus and Serendipity are living far away, there are no more mad early morning dashes to school or anywhere else. Unless I’m rushing to catch a plane…
I may still wake up at 6 AM but now I make a cup of Assam breakfast tea and meander down the driveway past the crabapple tree to fetch the morning papers which I read, in bed, very slowly, while sipping the inky brew.
Yesterday there was lots to savor in The New York Times Dining Section.
I pounced on Florence Fabricant’s “Pepper, but With Shape and Color,” (October 10, 2012, p. D5)—yet another reminder that yes, New Yorkers do have it better. If we still lived on East 11th Street, I’d now be inhaling the spritely aroma of fresh green peppercorns, thanks to Denis Heraud, a French filmmaker and painter who is importing them from Costa Rica where they are grown free of chemicals.
Even in India, where pepper vines clamber up the nearest tree, the perishable unripened berries are often only available in brine. (These are the same berries that when dried, become pungent black peppercorns and, when washed to remove the outer hull, musky white peppercorns.) Heraud says, “The terroir is what makes these so wonderful…They’re the grande cru, the Lafite of pepper." (This fits my theory that the French think differently about spices than we do.)
Although there are various ways to cook with fresh green peppercorns—the nouvelle cuisine twist on steak au poivre was a white wine-brandy sauce finished with cream and canned green peppercorns—I do like Heraud’s idea of simply nibbling a few with your tea. My own pepper vine, which grows in a large pot, tries valiantly to produce clusters of green peppercorns every summer, but our growing season is too short. Still I love the flavor of the crunchy immature corms—they’re fruity, quite aromatic, a bit resinous and definitely hot.
Moving on: In City Kitchen, David Tanis had a delicious sounding recipe for Pork Chops with Apples and Cider, but my attention was caught by the spiced salt in the recipe. Before sautéing the chops, they are rubbed with a blend of kosher salt, black peppercorns, cloves, allspice berries and fresh sage, and left to absorb the flavors. This aromatic blend would also be very nice, I think, rubbed on game such as venison and quail. The formula—salt, pepper, a spice or two, and fresh herbs or citrus zest—could be used to make many other interesting spiced salts.
What do you think? Any ideas?
And finally, there were two spicy restaurant reviews. In “A Farmer’s Market, Deep in China,” (October 10, 2012, p. D6) Pete Wells had mixed feelings about Yunnan Kitchen, a Lower Eastside restaurant that takes a “farmers’ market approach to the cuisine of Yunnan Province in China.” He wasn’t thrilled by “scrambled eggs with a fistful of jasmine blossoms,” but did like a mysterious “rust-colored powder” that was served alongside “fatty pork belly given a gentle cure and then fried until it blistered.” He managed to identify some of the powdered spices: “cumin, Sichuan pepper and hot chiles for sure, and maybe some star anise as well.” The same “hard to resist blend” was sprinkled over grilled skewers of “ground lamb, spring onions, fresh ginger and pickled chive buds” to happy effect.
And in the Hungry City column, (“A Spice Leaves You Speechless,” October 10, 2012, p. D6) Ligaya Mishan describes the “slow paralysis [that] takes hold of the tongue” at Phayul, a Jackson Heights Tibetan restaurant. Blame it on emma, aka Sichuan peppercorns, which “infiltrate a purplish-black blood sausage, gyuma ngoe ma ($7.99), at once crumbly and wet, and shoko sil sil ngoe ma ($6.99), potatoes that are shredded and tossed with scallions, chile pepper and enough emma to make your jaw throb.”
Pete Wells, incidentally, also has a very amusing feature on the fast-growing number of restaurants that offer expensive, tasting-only menus (“Nibbled to Death, Dish by Dish,” October 10, 2012, pp. D1 and D3). It reminded me of our visit to a certain restaurant in Paris last fall: Like Wells, we too felt a “trapped, helpless sensation,” “as much like…victims[s] as…guest[s]” and “walked out dazed when [we] could have been dazzled. “
But at least we were in Paris….