Grow Local: Pick a Pepper

September 8, 2014 § 1 Comment

Oof — last week was full of, well, for lack of a better way to summarize: fixin’ stuff. The warranties on the car, household items, and yes, yours truly, are wearing thin. Mechanics, plumbers, and physical therapists are my new BFFs. That’s why, when the weekend finally arrived, I was looking forward to doing whatever was low-key and relaxing.

And yet, the plethora of peppers from my garden were calling me.

Passel of peppers: ancho chiles, jalapenos, and sweet red bells

Ancho chiles, sweet red bells, and two kinds of jalapeños

They’ve been in cold-storage limbo for the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been trying to find some time to preserve those beauties so that I can enjoy them for a few more months. Finally, with a little free time on my hands this past weekend, I got to it. What better way to get a big sense of accomplishment with small effort than to fire up the grill and roast an assortment of Anchos, sweet reds, and jalapeños!

Roasting the peppers really brings out their flavor and sweetness, and it’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy them. As with slow-roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers complement a wide variety of savory dishes. Some of the ways in which I use roasted peppers:

  • Add chopped, roasted sweet red peppers to salads (delish on a Niçoise!)
  • Make a quick pasta with strips of roasted anchos, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, feta cheese, and olive oil
  • Spice up scrambled eggs with roasted jalapeños
  • Stuff roasted, peeled Anchos (or poblanos) to make chiles rellenos

Once you’ve roasted and peeled the peppers, you can store them in the refrigerator for about five days, or in the freezer for up to a year.

So, if you’ve got a passel of peppers, and you’ve been wondering how to preserve them, get ready to fire up the grill.

Technique: Roasted Peppers

Below I describe how to roast peppers on an outdoor grill, however, you can also get the same results by roasting peppers over an indoor gas cooktop. (Be sure to place a metal rack over the burner to prevent the peppers from falling into the flame.) Be forewarned: if you decide to roast your peppers indoors, you must have a powerful range hood/fan to suck up the roasty smell and any smoke. Also, peppers can give off sparks or catch fire if you get them too close to the flame, so be careful! If you’re roasting more than a couple of peppers, an outdoor grill is a better solution — faster, safer, and less cleanup.

Tools:

Outdoor grill
Long-handled tongs
Brown paper bags (I used lunch bags, aka brown sandwich bags)
Large colander or medium sheet pan

Ingredients:

Ripe peppers

How To:

  1. Heat your grill to about 450 – 500ºF.
  2. Arrange peppers on the grill and turn the heat down a bit.
    Place smaller peppers, such as jalapeños, across the grill’s grating so that they don’t fall through (they’ll soften as they start to cook).

    Fresh and shiny peppers on the grill

    Fresh and shiny peppers on the grill

    The heat from the grill will roast the pepper, charring and blistering the skin. Timing will vary depending on how well your grill holds heat, outdoor temperature, and the type of pepper. Anchos and jalapeños don’t take as long to roast as the thicker red bells.

  3. Every five minutes or so, use the tongs to pick up your peppers and check their undersides for blistering and charing.
    Once the side touching the grill has blistered and charred, turn the pepper. You’ll need to keep roasting and turning the peppers every five minutes or so.

    These guys are just getting started!

    These guys are just getting started!

    Repeat until each pepper’s skin is blistered and charred all the way around. You don’t want to burn the peppers, but you want to cook them enough to give them a roasty flavor and easily remove their skins later, when they’re cool.

  4. Once the peppers are roasted all the way around, they’ll start to deflate or flatten out. Using the tongs, remove them from the heat, and put them in a paper bag, then close the top of the bag.
    It's in the bag: roasted ancho chile going in for a steam.

    It’s in the bag: roasted ancho chile going in for a steam.

    I put two large peppers and several jalapenos in each bag. The heat and moisture of the peppers creates a steam-room effect, making it easier to remove the skins from the peppers once they’re cool.

  5. Place the bags of peppers in a colander or on a sheet pan and allow the peppers to cool to room temperature in your kitchen.
  6. When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove them from the paper bag and peel away their skins.
    The easiest way to start peeling is to find a split or blistered spot on the pepper and slowly pull the skin away from the pepper (it’s kind of like pulling the film off the screen of a mobile phone).
    As always, I strongly recommend wearing gloves while handling spicy peppers, such as jalapeños. Afterwards, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands, cutting board, any utensils you used when peeling spicy peppers. Don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or other, er, sensitive parts immediately after handling — wash your hands first! Better safe than sorry.

    Peeled peppers, ready for storage. Front to back: Anchos, jalapenos, "purple" jalapenos (red when mature), and sweet bells on the right.

    Peeled peppers, ready for storage. Front to back: Anchos, jalapeños, “purple” jalapeños on the left (red when mature), and sweet bells on the right.

  7. Stored peeled peppers in container in the refrigerator for up to five days.
    You can layer peppers in a single container, placing parchment in between the layers.
  8. To freeze, place a single layer of peppers in a plastic freezer bag, squeeze out all of the air and place either in a freezer-safe container or directly in the freezer.
    Be sure to label your bag or container with the contents and date.

There are other ways to preserve peppers, including drying and smoking. I haven’t attempted smoking yet, but it’s next on my list for the jalapeños! Aside from roasting my Ancho peppers, I’ve also dried a few to use this winter. Simple sun drying on my kitchen window sill takes about three weeks, and then I store the peppers in a plastic bag.

Ancho chiles: fresh, mature and drying, completely dried, roasted and peeled

Ancho chiles from L to R: fresh, mature and drying, completely dried, roasted and peeled

How are you preserving peppers? Have you tried roasting your own yet?

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