The world's most interesting pepper

The world's most interesting pepper
Ari LeVaux - 08/23/2018

If I were stranded on a desert island with one type of chile pepper, it would definitely be the jalapen?o. There are many ways that chile can be used, and the jalapen?o ticks all of the boxes. And no single pepper wears as many sombreros as the pride of Jalapa, Veracruz.

The jalapen?o shines cooked fresh and preserved. This time of year, when fresh, local jalapen?os can affordably be acquired by the box load, I focus on preservation – which is another way of saying “jalapen?o condiment making.”

Sriracha sauce, for example, is made from red, ripe, jalapen?os. Mexican escabeche, meanwhile, is a style of pickles made with carrots, herbs and green jalapen?os.

Green jalapen?os can also be roasted like New Mexico green chile, with comparable flavor. I’ve enjoyed roasted jalapen?os dressed in butter and Maggi (a type of Mexican soy sauce), alongside the escabeche at the salsa bars that grace Mexican restaurants.

Back in the day, farmers would pick enough green jalapen?os to enjoy fresh and bring to market, and at the end of the season, the chile plants would be full of unpicked red jalapenos. Following an ancient practice, the farmers would leave these ripe peppers on the plant as long as possible, allowing them to shrivel and dehydrate, before smoking them to complete the dehydration process. These Aztec-style smoked red jalapen?os are today known as chipotle peppers, and their sweet, smoky, earthy flavor is important in many dishes.

Meanwhile, jalapen?os of both hues have taken off among Asian Americans. Sriracha is as ubiquitous at American Vietnamese and Thai restaurants as ketchup is at burger joints, and sliced green jalapen?os garnish virtually every bowl of pho that is sold in America, while pickled jalapen?os are a common fixture in American banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches.

In my general approach to dealing with the seasonal glut of my favorite pepper, I try to emulate the jalapen?o farmers of Jalapa. When they are green, I enjoy the fresh jalapen?os in my meals, and make pickles. And when they turn red, I make chipotle.

I used to pickle my jalapen?os exclusively in a Mexican escabeche style, with carrots and some south-of-the-border style pickling spice. It was a very popular formulation among my peer group. Nowadays I don’t focus on the carrots, and am single-minded toward the jalapen?o.

My current preferred form of preserved green jalapen?o is based on Vietnamese-style pickled jalapen?o slices, a la banh mi sandwiches. These pickled jalapen?o slices are an easy way to store jalapen?os for later, and they are even easier to scoop onto everything, where they rightly belong.

Pickled Jalapen?o Slices

Jalapen?os
Vinegar (white or cider)
Salt
Sugar
In order to properly trim the jalapen?os, you must know how hot they are relative to your heat tolerance. If they’re not too hot, then you can leave the seeds and inner membranes in place. I brought a load of jalapen?os home from the farmers market last week, and they were so hot I had to clean them carefully, and then wash my hands with equal dedication.

Begin by slicing off the stem end of the jalapen?o. If the peppers are too hot, use the tip of a narrow knife to carve out the seed-bearing membranes. Slice the peppers crosswise as thinly as possible, and pack them into a sterile jar.

When all of your peppers are packed, add vinegar to each jar until it’s full, and then pour the vinegar out of the jar(s) and into a sauce pan. Bring vinegar to a simmer on medium. As it’s heating, add 2 teaspoons sugar and a teaspoon of salt to each pint jar (adjusting sugar and salt quantities accordingly for larger or smaller jars). When the vinegar reaches a simmer, pour it into the jars and screw on clean lids and rings. Place jars in fridge, where they can last for longer than you can refrain from eating them. If you’re doing massive quantities and don’t have space in the fridge, process the jars for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath, which will render them shelf stable. To use, simply scoop the pickled jalapen?o slices from the jar and apply them to your food. You’ll get the hang of it.

Chipotle

When it’s time to smoke red jalapen?os into chipotle peppers, my technique is less refined. I trim and clean the red jalapen?os the same way as the greens, and then roast them on the grill. When the skins have blistered, I move the peppers away from direct heat, add some wood chips to the grill, and close the top so the peppers smoke, adjusting the airflow as necessary.

When the wood chips have all burnt off, I finish drying the jalapen?os in the sun or a dehydrator. One could smoke them for days, Aztec-style, but a touch of smoke is fine with me. When crispy-dry, store them in airtight bags in the freezer.

Remember, this is a process that has been in use for thousands of years, and there are a lot of ways to smoke a red jalapen?o. As long as you don’t touch your eyes before washing your hands, messing around with jalapen?os is a tolerant process.

Both pickled jalapen?o slices and chipotles can be used as ingredients or as condiments to liven up the final dish. When jalapen?os are available, one tends to find ways to use them.

Top Shelf

How deep is your love?
How deep is your love?
By Chris Aaland
02/11/2021

Philadelphia freedom, Brothers Gibb & pirates on the mic

Rock in peace
Rock in peace
By Chris Aaland
01/07/2021

Mourning 2020’s lost musical voices and childhood missed chances 
 

Quaran-tunes
Quaran-tunes
By Chris Aaland
12/17/2020

What to listen to while waiting out a pandemic
 

Stay calm and folk on
Stay calm and folk on
By Chris Aaland
09/03/2020

KSUT streams virtual Four Corners Folk Festival this Friday
 

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

Cold comfort
Cold comfort
12/17/2020

Seeking solstice solace in the dog days of winter

A Grand escape
A Grand escape
By Stephen Eginoire
11/19/2020

Pandemic fatigue? Forget the world with three weeks on the Colorado

The living museum
The living museum
By Stephen Eginoire
10/15/2020
A day at the beach
A day at the beach
By Stephen Eginoire
06/18/2020

What does one do when their favorite summer swimming hole is teeming with reptilian and amphibian aquatic life?

Read All in Day on the Life