Burning Food And Feeling Good After Deed Is Done

September 20, 2006|By ROB KASPER

On a cool September evening I burned peppers, on purpose. I also barbecued a piece of pork slathered with rosemary, garlic and orange peel. The payoff of these actions was a satisfying supper and a wave of good feeling.

For some reason, burning peppers, charring them over high heat until their skins blacken, makes me feel better.

Maybe it is the aroma, a piercing, powerful fragrance that brings to mind thoughts of good meals. Perhaps it is the speed of the transformation: In five to 10 minutes, a once-rigid and pungent pepper becomes supple and sweet. More likely it is because the process gives me permission to do something deliberately that I sometimes do by accident, burning food. Behaving badly can be appealing.

The burning was the first and most exciting stage of the three-part pepper-skinning process. The bell peppers and some so-called finger peppers that I tossed on the grill grate the other night curled when they met the heat of a charcoal fire.

As the side of the peppers close to the fire turned black, I rotated an unsullied side toward the heat. The smoky experience flashed me back to my boyhood when I roasted marshmallows - and, I confess, sometimes bugs - over an open fire.

Once the peppers were blackened, I put them in a paper bag to sweat. There in the closed bag, steam loosened the charred skins. I found this process captivating. While I was doing nothing, work was going on inside the bag.

Particles were freeing the skins from the flesh. For me, sweating peppers in a paper bag ranks right up there with soaking a dirty rice pot in cold water as one of the miracles of kitchen duty.

Next came the slicing and stroking. Using a sharp paring knife, I chopped off the tops of the peppers. Then I scraped the crispy skin away from the sweet-smelling moist flesh. I removed the bitter seeds with my fingers. As I stroked the warm peppers, I smiled; they felt like fine leather gloves.

Skinned, seeded and stroked, the peppers went into the food processor for a few turns. Next they joined other aromatic ingredients: anchovies, capers and strips of orange peel, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. A remarkable relish emerges from this union, naturally sweet, with a citrus finish.

At the dinner table, I spooned the relish on thick slices of the barbecued pork.

The pork had been through its own aromatic journey. It had been coated with a spread made of chopped rosemary, garlic and orange peel. The garlic portion, six cloves, was substantial. When I tasted the spread as I applied it to the raw pork, my eyes popped. This baby had bite.

But after the slathered pork had spent an hour in my barbecue kettle cooker, the edge of the coating had subsided. The pork had faint hints of garlic and rosemary. When coated with the peppery relish, the flavors took off. It was one of the best pork dishes that has emerged from the kettle cooker, a cooker that has played host to many a pig part.

The recipes came from The Bon Appetit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild. It is a collection of favorite dishes published over the past 25 years in the Bon Appetit magazine.

"People who like to cook like to touch and smell the ingredients," Fairchild told me in a brief telephone interview. "It gets them out of their everyday lives, into a creative endeavor."

I agree. Charring peppers is one of those kitchen tasks that can surprise you with its allure. In addition to all the sensual pleasures that come from handling blackened peppers, they also make you smell better.


Podcasts featuring Rob Kasper are available at baltimoresun.com/kasper. A recipe for Tuscan Pork With Red-Pepper Relish can be found at baltimoresun.com/taste.

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