In our refrigerators and pantries, we let languish mustards and vinegars, salsa and pickles. Carrots grow beards; celery gets limp.
But, in my view, the greatest disservice that we do to a foodstuff is how we treat the chile pepper.
Not a fresh one that we might buy, not usually. By and large, it is quickly dispatched (though rarely properly), intended for a specific purpose, for a given day and dinner.
No, we buy the chile pepper in the forms of hot sauce or chile powder — diverse and useful, yes, but frankly not its best showings — that, in short order, we then we let languish alongside the now-forlorn pickles and mustards.
But what worlds of flavor and titillation fresh chile peppers can bring us, nearly always and for everything. If only we better honored them, knew their many and diverse secrets, understood how best to reveal those — and ate them every day.
I cannot tell you here about the chile pepper in its measureless entirety, about the long or short ones, the fat and thin ones, those in red, yellow, green, purple, even brown, all which colors may revise when dried.
And how to describe to you (or warn?) of their levels of heat? Because even, say, a short stout green one advertised to be “moderately hot” may, from one plant to the other — from one stem on the same plant to the other! — contain in itself a wickedly dangerous fire.
All I can do here, and today, is invite you to bring more of the chile pepper into your home and onto your kitchen counter. Discover how much it can give to your cooking (your preserving, your snacking, your entertaining).
But at least some tips on unlocking its secrets:
- Buy only those that are shiny and smooth, never ones that look tired or are wrinkled. (Some chiles sport uneven or bumpy skins; it’s not the same thing as wrinkled or drying-out.) Old chiles have lost flavor, but worse, are impossible to peel.
- Nearly every chile (although the wee ones are hard to work this way) tastes better if charred and peeled. Charring comes about in myriad ways: on the grill or griddle, above a gas flame (directly on the burner or held above it by tongs), below a broiler, or at the business end of a dessert torch. Let a number of black-brown blisters cover a good percentage of the chile’s real estate.
- “Sweat” the charred chiles in a closed, stout plastic bag for 15-20 minutes, until they are cool enough to handle.
- VIT (Very Important Tip): Don whatever sort of medicinal gloves that suit you (latex, plastic, neoprene, nitrile, or the like) before seeding and skinning fresh chiles. You can, of course, do those tasks barehanded, but the accident of reflexively touching your eyes (or other sensitive body bits) is devoutly to be avoided.
- Hold a small, sharp paring knife mostly by its blade (sometimes, with small chiles, very close to the point) in order to score, seed, and peel a chile.
- Scrape away charred skin and seeds with either the sharp or the top of the knife’s blade, whatever works better in a given instance without tearing. If stress-free to do, also carefully slice down along the “white” of inner veins; it can reduce that chile’s fire, if desired.
- Tear or further slice or chop the chile flesh as needed for the recipe or service.
From “Shinin’ Times at The Fort,” Holly Arnold Kinney; makes 1
3 green Anaheim chiles, roasted and peeled
1 clove garlic, chopped
Pinch dried Mexican leaf oregano
10-12 ounces thick-cut New York strip, top sirloin, or tenderloin of beef or buffalo steak
1/2 teaspoon canola oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon butter, optional
Slit the chiles to remove seeds; chop 2 chiles into fine dice and mix with the salt, garlic, and oregano. (New Mexicans traditionally like to leave a few seeds in the dish. “The seeds give it life,” they say.)
With a very sharp knife, cut a horizontal pocket into the steak. Stuff the chopped chiles into the pocket. Brush the meat and the remaining chile with the oil. Grill the steak on both sides to desired doneness. If using buffalo, watch carefully so as not to overcook. Because it contains less fat than beef it cooks much faster and is best medium-rare. Salt and pepper the meat.
Grill the remaining whole-roasted chile to get a nice patterning of grid burn on it. Lay it across steak as a garnish. A teaspoon of butter on the steak as a special treat is heaven. To make brown butter, simply place the butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat and allow to melt and turn golden brown.