Do Right By Stuffed Peppers
If you’ve had Spanish stuffed pepper or Mediterranean stuffed pepper or God-forbid-American stuffed pepper or whatever-other-western-culture-style who together shares the innate calling to fill a vegetable with a hollow center, and you think – stuffed pepper is the champion (wait for it…) of the good-in-theory-but-COMPLETELY-FORGETTABLE-in-reality category – I’m totally with you. In all the culinary-ideas out there that the world all seems to agree on and share, the west unmistakably dominates on a few things…I’ll give’em that. They do better with a-lot-of-things-fermented like cheese, bread, cured meats and basically all-things-alcoholic. Great. I won’t argue with that.
But leave stuffed peppers alone.
I assure you that this is no bias-driven theory as I’m a self-proclaimed, most objective diverse-eater (aka I eat anything) there could be. Say my palette-range is just ahead of Bourdain but a tad behind Zimmern, and that’s saying a lot in relative terms. So when I say the west doesn’t know how to stuff a pepper, I’m not talking from an Asian point of view. That would be insulting. In fact, the only argument I will make is two words only – WRONG PEPPER! Bell pepper has no business being stuffed, period. Pimento pepper is sliiightly better but I wouldn’t hug it just yet. So why is there anything wrong with them? Because size MATTERS. People who stuff bell peppers or pimentos have no regard for the importance of RATIO between the stuffed and the stuffing.
In my theory, once the volume of the stuffing surpasses the pepper by 2:1, it’s not a pepper anymore. It’s a BOWL. Would a pizza still be a pizza if the topping was 5″ high (… wait, deep-dish fans please leave the room)? Are you eating apple pie or just apples if somebody handed you a 10″ tall slice? Could you be happy with an ice-cream sandwich that… ok that can be an exception. But do you get my point? Ratio matters. In fact, a 1:1 ratio would be the most ideal if one really wants to strike a balance between the two merged elements because that’s what any stuffing dish is about, a beautiful marriage. NOT, in my opinion, omg-look-there’s-a-big-empty-hole-and-I-really-wanna-fill-it-with-anything-but-the-kitchen-sink! Unfortunately most stuffed peppers fall into that category due to the recklessness of some… you know who you are.
So which pepper is the ideal candidate, crazy-snobbish-stuffed-pepper-snob? Ahem if I may… I have stuffed a considerable number of peppers in my time, and I find that small, slender and thin-skinned pepper is the most eligible. Jalapeno is fine but some have skin too thick that may be unpleasant when it comes to eating. Chinese long green pepper is great but it packs a forceful amount of heat. In that case, Japanese shishito would be a good alternative for the non-heat-junkies, or Italian long sweet pepper is also usable, although in some cases it lurks on the edge of being too big. And when it comes to the stuffing, forget couscous or breadcrumbs or are-you-insane?. Pepper SCREAMS for pork guys! Not just pork on its own, but pork that’s mashed with salted duck yolks! Plenty of Asian markets carry it and it gives a level of richness to ground meats. But this could be easily turned Italian by mixing in Parmesan cheese, or Greek with feta, or American with cheddar, or anything in your wildest dreams. Keep it simple because this, as is, already tastes as good as crack (I mean I’d imagine…).
- 24 long, thin-skin green chili peppers (I’m using a Chinese long green pepper called “hang-jiao”. Anything suggested above would work nicely, too)
- 1 egg
- 3 tbsp of oil
- 1 head of peeled garlic cloves + 1/4 tsp of salt
- 1 tbsp of soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp of sugar (omit if the soy sauce is already quite sweet)
- 1 tbsp of rice wine, or sake
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp of rice vinegar, or white wine vinegar
- 200 g of ground pork
- 1 salted duck egg
- 1 tsp of soy sauce
- 1 tsp of sesame oil
- 1/4 tsp of sugar
- 1/4 tsp of ground white pepper
- 1 tsp of grated ginger
- 2 tsp of corn starch
Wash the peppers and dry them on a clean towel. If the peppers come with stems, leave them on. Use a small paring-knife to make an incision from head to tail, but leaving 1/4″ (0.5 cm) of flesh on both sides uncut (this will help maintaining the shape of the pepper during cooking). Take the smallest spoon you have and carefully scrape off the membrane and seeds inside the pepper without tearing it. Set aside.
Cut 1 salted duck egg open and scrape off the egg white and yolk on one side, but JUST the yolk on the other. The flavors are mostly in the yolk, plus the egg white is quite salty so using a whole would be too much. Combine ground pork, salted duck egg, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, white pepper, grated ginger and corn starch in a large bowl. Mix vigorously with a fork until the mixture is sticky and thick.
Whisk 1 egg until well beaten. Brush the inner walls of the peppers with a very thin layer of egg (this will help the fillings stick), and stuff the pork mixture inside the peppers. DO NOT overdo it. Too much stuffing would tear the pepper and may fall out of it during cooking. Smooth the surface of the stuffing with your finger and make sure it is “glued” to the openings on the peppers.
Heat up 3 tbsp of oil in a wide, flat skillet on medium heat. Add the peeled garlic cloves + 1/4 tsp of salt and toast the garlic until evenly browned on all sides (you could tilt the skillet to gather the oil and garlic on one side of the pan, and “fry” it). Remove the garlic once browned and set aside. Turn the heat up to high, put the peppers in the skillet and pan-fry them until the skins are blistered (turn them carefully with a tongs for even frying). I did this in two batches because my skillet wasn’t big enough and I suspect anyone’s is given that there are a lot of peppers.
Once all peppers are properly blistered (keep the heat on high), add the garlic cloves back in, along with soy sauce, sugar, rice wine and a pinch of salt. Swirl the skillet to let all the ingredients combine (or move them carefully with a tongs), then add 2 tbsp of water and cook with the lid on until the water has evaporated (shouldn’t take more than 1 min). CAREFUL NOT TO cook them for too long! If the peppers get too soft, the stuffing would fall out of it.
Remove the lid, turn off the heat and check the seasonings. Add 1 tsp of rice vinegar or white wine vinegar at the last minute. Move the peppers carefully to make sure it’s mixed in.
Serve hot or cold. Doesn’t change its awesomeness. But note that it would get even hotter if reheated. Consider yourself warned.