Black pepper (Recipe: Laurie Colwin's roasted pepper chicken)
A few days ago, when I was searching for the source of a literary fragment rattling around in my brain, I stumbled across this:
It takes four men to dress a salad: a wise man for the salt, a madman for the pepper, a miser for the vinegar, and a spendthrift for the oil.
Anonymous, who supposedly said this, obviously didn't know the guys I know.
Oh, don't get me wrong; I know wise men, madmen, cheapskates and spendthrifts. But I think that any of them, especially the ones who come to cook in my kitchen, could pull off a proper vinaigrette without the help of three other guys.
Vinaigrette always includes pepper, but so does almost every savory dish I cook -- and some sweets, as well. In the early years of the spice trade, black pepper was worth its weight in gold, literally, and that's still true today. I don't want to try to pay my mortgage with pepper, but I don't want to make chicken kali murch, fennel-rubbed flank steak, pepper and lime oven fries, pepper spice cookies, parmesan shortbread, or black pepper crab without it.
Peppers grown in different places have distinctive flavor and pungency, and I keep several different varieties, in different grinds or whole peppercorns, in my pantry. The world's major producers are India, Indonesia, Brazil, Malaysia and Vietnam, and the black peppers from these countries have varying amounts of essential oils and piperine, which gives pepper its bite. I've always got Malabar and Tellicherry peppers from India, and Sarawak pepper from Malaysia. Vietnamese pepper -- I received some as a gift -- is quite mild, and I've never tasted black pepper from Brazil, which is said to be a bit bland.
I used to be a purist about ground pepper; nothing would do except grind-as-you-go. For the past few years, though, I've been buying coarse-ground Tellicherry pepper from Penzeys. An eight-ounce bag costs just $6.19. It couldn't be more delicious; it's aromatic, with a wonderful kick. And I love the way it looks -- like pepper, not like dust.
Laurie Colwin's roasted pepper chicken
Laurie Colwin's name has come up a lot lately, as Arlo and I have been enjoying some of her writing. This recipe is adapted ever so slightly from Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, one of those books I turn to again and again. Serves 6-8.
1 chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces, or assorted leg/thigh and breast pieces, on the bone
1 Tbsp dried thyme
1/2 Tbsp black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp brown sugar
Pinch of ground clove
1/2 tsp paprika
2 cloves garlic, slivered
2 tsp butter
Place the chicken pieces on a rimmed sheet pan or roasting pan. In a small bowl, combine the thyme, black pepper, red pepper, brown sugar, and clove. Rub this on both sides of the chicken and set aside for an hour. When it's time to cook, heat the oven to 375°F. Dust the chicken with paprika, slivers of garlic, and pats of butter. Bake for 45-55 minutes or until the chicken is done as you like it and the skin is crisp. Serve it hot, room temperature, or shredded in a salad.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Peggy's barbecued brisket
Slow-roasted tomato bruschetta
French potato salad
No-cook summer antipasto
Garlic chicken on skewers (shish taouk)