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Pick a Pepper

WNYC explores different varieties of peppercorns and how they are used.

Friday, February 25, 2011

You might not think about where ground pepper comes from when picking up a tin at the store. Grind it yourself and you’ll notice the spice comes from small peppercorns, which have been dried and come in a rainbow of different hues.

Chef Julian Medina, a Mexico City native who owns and operates Toloache and Yerba Buena restaurants, has extensive experience using a variety of different peppercorns in his cooking. During his training in French-style cooking, Medina learned how to use white pepper in French sauces. “White pepper is not as spicy as black pepper,” he explains. “I like to use it for more delicate stuff, like fish, scallops, crab, lobster.”

Black peppercorns work better for meat. “Black pepper I think is more for something that has a more gamey taste, maybe a steak, maybe chicken, maybe duck,” says Medina.

He recommends staying away from different colored peppercorns that come mixed in a single container. Focusing on one peppercorn type allows the individual flavor to come out. Green peppercorns, for example, have a slight olive taste and work well when mixed with a few sharper-tasting black peppercorns. At Toloache, Medina garnishes his hamachi ceviche with whole pink peppercorns because they add texture. “It has a berry, like a strawberry flavor, as well,” he says.

Above all, freshly ground pepper or peppercorns should be used when cooking as opposed to the pre-ground stuff. The difference is flavor is like comparing a plastic, steak-shaped chew toy to an actual steak. Try out Medina's recipe for Hamachi Ceviche with Avocado Fries below.

Hamachi Ceviche
Yellowtail, Meyer lemon, cucumber, pink peppercorn and crispy avocado
By Julian Medina

For the Ceviche:

  • ½ lb. Yellowtail, thinly sliced in squares
  • 1 cup Cucumbers, cut in ¼ inch dice
  • ½ cup Huichol salsa
  • 4 slices Avocado Fry, for garnish (recipe below)
  • 1T Pink peppercorns

For the Habanero-Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette (Makes 1 cup)

  • ½ cup Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Yuzu juice
  • 1 tsp Tajin
  • 1 tsp Habanero Salsa
  • ½ cup Olive oil
  • Kosher salt to taste

1. First, make the Habanero Vinaigrette. In a blender, or food processor, combine all the ingredients except the oil and blend. Then slowly pour in the oil and blend until a well-incorporated vinaigrette forms.

2. Then, for each plate (one plate per person), lay a grid of six yellowtail slices and spoon a portion of the vinaigrette over the fish (make sure it lightly coats the yellowtail and does not make sure not to over saturate, or drown the pieces of meat with the vinaigrette). Swirl the plate to move the vinaigrette evenly among the pieces.

3. Then, for each square, place a piece of cucumber topped with one pink peppercorn. Finally, garnish with a sprinkle of tajin and the avocado fry (recipe below).

Avocado Fries

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 firm avocados, cut into eights
  • kosher salt

1. To prepare the area for the frying process, set up three plates. Spread the flour on one plate, on another plate spread the panko and leave one plate clean. Also needed is a shallow bowl with the buttermilk and two paper towels laid out to set the freshly fried avocado fries on.

2. For each avocado slice, season with salt, then roll the slice in the flour, dip in the buttermilk, and then coat with the panko. Set the slices aside on the clean plate.

3. In a cast-iron skillet or frying pan, bring oil to 375° F. Then fry four slices at a time until golden brown. Remove slices from the frying pan then lay fries on the pre-set paper towels to absorb excess oil, sprinkle salt on fries. Best if fries are served immediately with dipping sauce. Before repeating process for additional batches make sure to wait for oil to return to 375° F.

Guests:

Julian Medina

Hosted by:

Amy Eddings

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