Pepper

 Pepper

When I became a cookery writer, years ago, my first burning campaign was to rid us all of this, musty, dusty ingredient called Ground Pepper. Because once ground, like all other spices, it loses its fragrance and flavour. Whereas freshly ground pepper has a very special role in cooking and eating.

Peppercorns begin as immature berries which are harvested and dried in the sun and they look the picture here. They have a black outer casing, which has all the aromatic fragrance which enhances food, and a white inner kernel which adds a touch of fireyness.

If the heat is all that’s needed the berries are left to mature, the outer husks discarded, and these are what we call white peppercorns. They have lots of heat, but not the fragrance and flavour of the whole peppercorn.

If a recipe calls for coarsely ground black pepper, the peppercorns can be crushed like this with a pestle and mortar.

If you don’t have one of these you can crush the peppercorns by pressing them with the back of a tablespoon on a flat surface.

What all kitchens and dining rooms need is a really good pepper mill, or more importantly one that always works. Like the Delia Online pepper mill which is so good, we've given it our stamp of approval. They're called Crushgrind, and have a ceramic mechanism that can be adjusted by turning the mill upside down, giving it a tap to release any trapped bits, give it a few twists, then turn the wheel, clockwise for finer, and anti-clockwise for coarser.

They actually come with a life time guarantee and if the mechanism fails they will replace it. So, after 42 years of failed pepper mills, this in my opinion is definitely a step forward for human kind.

Cayenne pepper: An absolute must in the kitchen. It’s hot and fiery and needs to be used with extreme caution, but it is brilliant for that little sprinkling of piquancy. It’s made from one of the hottest types of chilli, which is dried, then crushed to a powder – including the seeds. I’m forever using a pinch here and there, and I love it sprinkled on smoked fish or prawn cocktail. Although spices, once ground, do not have a long shelf life, cayenne does seem to go on longer than most, but still needs replacing fairly regularly.

Sichuan pepper: Despite its name, this is not actually from the same family as black, white and green peppercorns , but comes from a type of ash tree. It’s used in oriental cooking and is an ingredient of Chinese five-spice powder.

White pepper: Here the berries are allowed to mature before harvesting, the husks are discarded and the white kernels dried to become white peppercorns. The dried berries, stored whole, will keep their aroma for a long time, but once they have been powdered to dust in a factory, hung about on the shelf and stagnated in a pepper pot, there is no surprise that the result is a million miles from the fragrance you can keep locked up in your pepper mill.

 
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