September 16, 2013
poivrons cerises farcis
(stuffed cherry peppers)
I feel genuinely lucky that my mother only served stuffed bell peppers once or twice when I was growing up. To this day, the thought of her over‑baked green‑bell peppers stuffed with a dry‑tasting and not very flavorful mixture of converted rice, ground beef, and tomato sauce makes my skin crawl. It’s not that all stuffed peppers are bad, but those she served in the 1950s certainly were.
I get the opposite feeling when I think of the dim sum dish that sometimes in English is called white flower dumpling in green pepper. These are squares of green‑bell pepper filled with a simple, garlic‑enhanced shrimp paste. The combination is steamed, the shrimp side sometimes browned in a skillet, and then served with a simple garlic‑soy sauce. Yum.
At the cooking school where I teach knife skills, it’s not unusual to find someone stuffing green jalapeño peppers with cheese. The combination is usually coated with a breading and deep‑fried. Sometimes these are great and sometimes not so, but they are always worth tasting. The dish is called poppers, and are, after a fashion, a version of chiles rellenos, a classic Mexican preparation.
I’ve considered doing my own version of stuffed peppers for a long time, but the recipe never came together until I found myself with 18 pounds of a smoked, ready‑to‑eat ham and a jar of peperoncini interi tondi.
Both were the result of a local market going under and selling all their stock at drastically reduced prices. The ham was only 70¢ per pound.
I lugged the ham home, boned it out, gave half of the meat to my neighbors, and packaged the seven remaining pounds into portions more appropriate for my wife’s and my diner requirements. All but one of the portions were placed in the freezer. Even after careful portioning, there is always a bit of ham left over after eating some for dinner. Some goes into my morning eggs, but sometimes I make ham salad with the leftovers.
Whether ham, chicken, beef, or seafood, my meat salads are all similar
. Cut the meat in a small dice or coarsely grind it and mix it with mayonnaise. Season it with salt and maybe some black pepper. Maybe add some finely diced green onion or jalapeño pepper. Maybe add some dehydrated onion or garlic powder. That’s about it.
So, I had this bowl of ham salad made from ground ham, mayonnaise, jalapeño pepper, and salt. The ham salad was crying out to be stuffed into the peperoncini, which are hot cherry peppers cured in oil. How could I refuse it?
I selected four peppers from the jar that were about the same size, about 2 cm (0.8 in) across. Working with one pepper at a time, I carefully removed the stem so I wouldn’t tear the red flesh. Then I set a pepper on my cutting board so that the axis that runs from the stem to where the blossom was attached was parallel to my board, and the opening where the stem had been pointed towards my knife. I then made four cuts in the side of the pepper, rotating the pepper around the axis ninety degrees between each cut. After scraping out the seeds, I could open each pepper like a flower.
After I prepared all the peppers, I rolled small portions of the ham salad into balls. I inserted each ball between the “petals” of a pepper and gathered the “petals” around the ball of meat. I placed each on the serving dish so the open end of the pepper was up. I dotted the top of each with a small mound of the seeds reserved from eviscerating the pepper.
Although the ham salad made a convenient stuffing for the pepper, any tasty ball of something edible would work nicely. A tuna salad made with Italian, canned tuna would work. Turkey salad made with leftover, cooked turkey would work. A tartare made from an oily, raw fish would work. Even a tartare made from avocado would work. This is really a simple and versatile amuse‑bouche.