Homemade 'poppers' turn up heat

ASK THE CHEF

September 22, 2002|By JIM COLEMAN AND CANDACE HAGAN | JIM COLEMAN AND CANDACE HAGAN,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Q. Restaurants that serve "poppers" (fried, breaded hot peppers stuffed with cheese) must buy them from commercial suppliers. The brands in the freezer section of grocery stores are not as good. The peppers are tough and do not seem to be truly stuffed. I have tried making poppers at home, but I have trouble with the breading -- it does not stick, the peppers get soggy, etc. What am I doing wrong?

A. Yes, restaurants (and even more bars) do buy poppers from large distributors. The best commercial brand is called Anchor, so if you ever see them in a store, that's the one to buy. However, these little guys are easy to make at home.

For the filling, try equal parts of cream cheese, shredded cheddar and shredded Monterey Jack. Use this mixture to stuff whole peppers that you have seeded.

Now comes the breading. This is going to sound strange, which coming from me is nothing new, but the first of two tricks I suggest is to start with a store-bought "fried vegetable batter." The second trick is to ignore what the package says about thinning out the batter with milk or water. What you want to do is just use a little beer (remember, we're talking happy hour here), and keep the batter thick. Once you have the batter, the rest is easy. The only other thing you need to finish the coating is a plate of cornmeal seasoned with a little salt, white pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder.

OK, let's get started by using a fork to hold each pepper as you dip it into the batter. Allow as much excess batter as you can to drip off, then place the pepper in the cornmeal. Make sure you bury the pepper in the cornmeal, pressing the cornmeal on for complete coverage. When you have your perfectly coated pepper, stop and admire it, then place it on a tray lined with parchment paper. Repeat with all of your peppers, then cover the tray and place it in the freezer at least overnight. Then the next day (about 5 p.m., when happy hour starts at your house), pop those babies in the fryer and let the good times roll.

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