If you’ve been paying attention over the past few months you may have noticed our cider selection has expanded exponentially. At the moment we’re carrying more than 30 varieties of cider from whole swath of producers, both domestic and international.
Peppercorn berries may have originated in India, but plenty of other places around the word have sought similar spice qualities in local plants that are now also called peppercorns. In Part 1 of our series on this “king of spices” we looked at the wide range of peppercorns available from the piper nigrum plant. In Part 2, we’ll take a closer look at five other well known types of peppercorns that are not to be confused with “true” peppercorn berries.
Perhaps the most popular type of alternative pepper is the pink peppercorn. This is actually not a peppercorn in the traditional sense but instead the berry of a plant in a completely different family called shinus melle, also known as the Peruvian pepper tree. It was originally discovered in South America but now it is mostly cultivated in Madagascar, Mexico, and Australia. It is a very lightweight berry with a paper thin outer husk encasing a hard kernel. The flavor has the initial bite like green or black peppercorn but is then finished by a very fruity sweet flavor. Pink peppercorns are best used to finish a dish (especially foie gras). They can also be used in baking or in light sauces, however, you don’t want to cook them for too long or at high temperatures since they easily lose their complexity. Since they are particularly soft, skip the spice grinder and try crushing them by hand or in a mortar and pestle to preserve some of their texture. In terms of quality, it is best to look for berries that are mostly intact with very few separated husks since they tend to break apart easily with age and then quickly lose their flavor.
A rather visually fascinating form of peppercorn is the long peppercorn. These peppercorns are from the same family as the traditional peppercorns of the piper nigrum plant but are in fact their own species. This inch-long bud fruit is made of hundreds of tiny seeds that surround a core stem. Their taste is like mild pepper and mild ginger combined. It is great in sweet-spicy dishes to highlight both sides of its flavor, as well as in stews. These peppercorns can both be roughly chopped or ground to extract their full flavor. Try substituting these for traditional peppercorns in any recipe to create a different and unique flavor profile. It is also great in fresh salads and coleslaws in which their complexities are not cooked away.
Also called Szechuan peppercorns or “numbing spice,” these peppercorns are actually the rinds of the fruit of a shrub in the prickly ash family. Generally used in Chinese cuisine, they are very aromatic with a strong peppery flavor alongside citrusy notes that help break down fatty foods. As their alternate name suggests, they also have unique numbing qualities and should be used sparingly so as to not overwhelm your dish (or your palate). They are best roasted to release their aromatics.
From the same family as traditional peppercorns, these peppercorns are quite rare. They are from the island of Java in Indonesia where they mature on the vine until they are a bright yellow-redish color. They are then handpicked with their stem still attached (hence their name) and sun-dried on bamboo mats. The flavor combines that of a traditional black peppercorn with a citrusy sweetness and notes of lavender, cloves, and nutmeg. They also have a distinct cooling somewhat bitter menthol felling on the tongue. They are used instead of black pepper in many curry dishes, and also as a substitute to allspice or clove.
Also known as Australian Mountain Pepper, these peppercorns come from the Tasmania lanceolata plant, unrelated to piper nigrum. Rarely found outside Australia, they have a unique peppery sweetness that is great atop gamey meats. Since they are typically softer than black peppercorns they may gum up a pepper mill and are best ground instead with a mortar and pestle.
Kim Beaty is an avid home chef and outdoorsman, and a Spice Buyer, Assistant Pastry Chef and classroom instructor at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.
Posted in Buyer's Guides, Herbs, Spices, Salts & Peppers | Tagged Balinese Long Pepper, comet's tail peppercorns, food, numbing spice, pepper, peppercorns, pink peppercorns, Sichuan Peppercorns, spices, Szechuan peppercorns, Tasmanian Peppercorns, whole pepper, whole spices | Leave a Comment »
Decanting wine conjures visions of cobwebby bottles, flickering candles, crystal goblets, and white-gloved butlers. Performed primarily to relieve wines of sediment, the technique that’s known as the soft decant once involved all this and a good deal of practiced skill to boot.
Decanting was once important because wines (especially red Bordeaux wines) were routinely cellared for years in an attempt to moderate tannins and encourage the development of those alluring flavors and aromas we call bottle age.
Over time molecules of tannin would flocculate (glom together) until they were too heavy to remain in solution, whereupon they would fall to the bottom of the bottle to form a little pile of harmless but not very appetizing debris. A slow, skillful decant left you with lovely clear wine in your crystal decanter while the sediment remained in the bottle.
Today the soft decant is much less frequently seen for the simple reason that it’s less necessary. For one thing, we drink wines at an earlier point in their development, long before tannins have had time to polymerize and create sediment. Also, fining and filtering are more widely and successfully practiced, making “cleaner” wines.
Fresh, modern wines, however, are more likely to come out of the bottle oxygen-starved (the term you’ll see is “reductive”) than wine long-matured in bottle and can for this reason take a bit of time to expressive themselves. Infusing some air will often bring them around quickly, as inventors seem to have learned. All manner of widgets have appeared promising to make our wine more readily drinkable, but if aeration is one key to more immediately expressive wine, why not just familiarize yourself with the technique known as the hard decant?
Everything you need and everything you need to know to perform this maneuver is visible in the photo above: an open bottle of wine; a roomy pitcher of no particular configuration (any of the three shown would do the job – and have); and a tea towel, dish towel, or napkin.
The visual cues to good technique are in the blur and the foam. Remove the closure and in a single motion thrust the neck of the bottle, held almost vertically, deep into the container. Let the wine wantonly gurgle, splash, and swirl as it likes, keeping the neck of the bottle out of contact with the rising wine. The more action the better. It shouldn’t take more than a few seconds and you’re done.
The towel is there to help you do a little mopping up afterward – just in case your butler has the night off.
Stephen Meuse is a wine buyer at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge, and regularly talks wine on local PBS affiliate WGBH with host Christopher Kimball of America’s Test Kitchen Radio.
Experimenting with herbs and spices in everyday cooking can be very intimidating. When I first became a spice buyer, I myself was overwhelmed by the seemingly endless number of herb and spice varieties that are out there, and it wasn’t until I was preparing to teach my first spice class at Formaggio Kitchen that I truly delved into one of the spice world’s most basic yet versatile berries: the peppercorn.
Posted in Buyer's Guides, Herbs, Salts & Peppers, Spices | Tagged black peppercorns, food, green peppercorns, Maricha pepe, Maricha Red Sarawak peppercorns, Maricha Rosso "Red" peppercorns, mixed peppercorns, pepper, peppercorns, piper nigrum, red peppercorns, Tellicherry peppercorns, white peppercorns, whole pepper, whole spices | 1 Comment »
We’ve long been enamored with grower Champagnes – those wonderful bubblies that are made and bottled by the very same people who cultivate and harvest the grapes. So trendy have these Champagnes become that it can easily be forgotten that the oldest winemaking tradition in this part of the world involves a relatively small group of specialty establishments who have a different approach to making the world’s premier sparkling wine. Known as the Grandes Marques, these houses rely mainly (but not solely) on grapes and wine purchased from select growers. What they contribute is artful sourcing and blending. These establishments bear some of the most recognizable names in Champagne: among them, Taitinger, Bollinger, Pol Roger, Moët & Chandon, and – the original – Ruinart.
Brothers Gilles and Thierry Faravel make wine in some of the most weirdly beautiful geography in all of France: in Gigondas, one of the crû villages of the southern Rhone Valley and in the very shadow of the rocky outcropping known as the Dentelles of Montmirail.
Posted in Christmas, Holiday, New Year's, Wine | Tagged Christmas, Domaine la Bouïssière Gigondas, food, food gifts, France, gift ideas, gift wines, Gigondas, holiday, sampler, Wine | Leave a Comment »