Peppercorns

I was on WKOW’s “Wake Up Wisconsin” show early this morning and thought I’d talk about pepper.  I love pepper.  It goes on anything but dessert for me (tho I know that black pepper ice cream is out there.  Hm….).

My father-in-law is convinced that pepper will cure all sorts of ills, and it probably can.  I just did a quick google search and came up with loads of titles like: “Black pepper – The World’s Healthiest Foods,” “9 Amazing Benefits of Black Pepper” (or 11, or 17), and “Peppercorns Benefits Including Preventing Cancer, Diabetes.”  Guess we should all be eating more pepper.

Peppercorns come in several colors, but most of them are from the same plant–just different stages of ripeness.  Black, white, red, and green peppercorns all come from Piper nigrum which is native to India, and is now grown all over the tropical world.  (Vietnam is currently the largest exporter of peppercorns.)

Pink peppercorns are different, though.  They come from a totally different plant–Schinus molle, commonly known as the Peruvian peppertree.  Some pink peppercorns also come from another related plant Schinus terebinthifolius (the Brazilian pepper).  Both are related to the cashew plant, so nut allergy folks beware.  (There have also been some other reported health issues, too.)

Black peppercorns are the most popular and the type most commonly used here in the US.  Black pepper is used universally, whenever and where ever pepper is called for.

Black peppercorns are actually picked when immature (green) and then cooked and dried.  The skin shrivels and turns the dark brown to black color we see when we look at whole black peppercorns.

It seems like I’ve heard a lot about Tellicherry peppercorns lately.  What I learned is that they are not a different type of peppercorn and have nothing really to do with the Indian town of Telicherry these days.  It is simply a size designation.  Tellicherry peppercorns are bigger than your average black peppercorn.  Some people say that bigger peppercorns have more fragrant, complex aromas.  You can decide for yourselves.  And while you’re at it, apparently there’s even one more designation for the biggest peppercorns: “Tellicherry Special Extra Bold Peppercorns.”  Try that on for size!

Green peppercorns are picked when immature then usually brined or dried.  They have a very delicate flavor.  Great with fresh, melted Wisconsin butter and corn on the cob.

Peppercorn fruits turn red as they ripen, so red peppercorns are dried ripe fruits, and white peppercorns are mature red peppercorns which have been soaked and had their outer shells removed, leaving just the white core.  They have a milder flavor and are used where you don’t want to see the specks of the black peppercorn, i.e. in cream sauces, mashed potatoes…

Pink Peppercorns are picked when ripe and are usually dried.  They are peppery, slightly sweet and a bit fruity.  They are often used for color and flavor.

And now that we’ve learned all about peppercorns, here is one of my favorite peppered recipes: Steak au Poive (Steak with Pepper).  One you’ve made it, you can eat it as is or use it in recipes such as these Steak au Poivre Tacos.  They’re especially good topped with my fresh Roasted Tomato Salsa.
And if you want to have fun learning more about tacos and making delicious tacos, check out my upcoming Taco Classes here.  There’s Teen Cuisine: Tacos this Friday evening (4/20) and Parent/Child Tacos this Sunday (4/22).

Steak au Poivre Tacos with Roasted Tomato Salsa and Aged Wisconsin Cheddar

8 ounces tender beef, cut into 4 slabs
2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oil
8 small flour or corn tortillas (warmed)
1 cup Roasted Tomato Salsa* Recipe Follows
1 cup chiffonade of lettuce
1 cup grated aged Wisconsin cheddar

Method:  Coat the beef with freshly ground pepper and season with the salt. Press the pepper into the meat so it will form a nice crust. Heat the oil in a skillet and when smoking hot add the beef. Cook a minute or so on each side or to the desired degree of doneness. Let the meat rest a couple of minutes then slice and divide among the warmed tortillas. Top as desired with grated cheese, lettuce and Roasted Tomato Salsa. Enjoy!

Roasted Tomato Salsa

8 plum tomatoes, halved and stemmed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 small shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, pasted
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup minced parsley or cilantro

Method:  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle, brush or rub the oil on to the cut side of the tomatoes and place the tomatoes on a parchment lined sheet tray. Season with salt and pepper. Roast 20-25 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through. Cool a bit and chop. Place the chopped tomatoes in a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well. Use as desired.

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