Charred Bell Pepper | Cooking With Bells On

Kitchen Hack #3: Charring Peppers Upside Down

Lately I’ve been charring a lot of peppers in development of recipes for this blog. I used to think that the technique – essentially burning peppers over a gas flame in order to loosen the skin for peeling – was mostly unnecessary outside the professional kitchen. Home cooks shouldn’t be so picky as to care about having the experience of a dish tarnished by the snappy bite of a little vegetable skin, right?

Maybe not. I recently began to evolve on this point when I realized that charring poblanos could lend a smoky flavor to my lentil soup. Then I began working on a new recipe featuring red bell peppers, and as I’ve been testing and retesting it over the past week I realized that the skins absolutely had to go for the recipe to work. The thing is, when your recipe calls for 4 red bell peppers, charred, peeled, and seeded, and when you’re making that recipe three or four times in as many days, charring peppers becomes a major pain in the butt. After spending several hours over the past week turning peppers over the stove (many thanks to Brian for manning that station more than once), I decided there had to be a better way.

It took some trial and error, but I eventually settled on a technique to hack the charred pepper. My initial goal was to simplify the process so that it would be less time consuming, but I am pleased to say that my hack actually improved on the efficacy of the pepper-charring as well! The peppers actually burn more evenly, leaving behind no trace of unblemished skin that would otherwise be difficult to peel. So go ahead and forget the tedious stove-top method you were using before; my strategy works better.

To hack charred peppers I use the exposed flame of my broiler to char the peppers for me – I char them upside down! The trick is to deal with the indented shape of the peppers, which makes it nearly impossible for the peppers to blacken evenly (or sometimes at all). To resolve this issue, I remove the core of the pepper and press them flat. By laying the peppers flat against a sheet pan, I am able to easily char several peppers at a time without attending to them at the stove.

Kitchen Hack: Charring Peppers Upside Down

This technique works for any kind of large pepper (bell pepper, jalapeno, poblano, anaheim, etc). Be aware that your kitchen will smell like something is burning as you char the peppers – you’re not doing it wrong, I promise, just open a window.

  1. Place a rack on the top shelf of your oven and turn on the broiler. Line a baking pan with tinfoil.
  2. Cut both ends off the pepper and slice down one side. Remove the seeds and lie the pepper flat, skin-side up. Press firmly to flatten to break and flatten any kinks.
  3. Place the peppers under the broiler until they are just about entirely black, 10-15 minutes.
  4. Remove the blackened peppers and place in a bowl. Cover and let steam for 15 minutes. Peel the peppers and rinse under the tap, if necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

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Pickled Purple Cauliflower | Cooking With Bells On

Pickled Purple Cauliflower

You’ve seen Portlandia, right? Wait, you haven’t? Okay, take a minute to consume the spot-on hilarity that is this clip and then I’ll get back to you.

Now that we are on the same page, let’s talk about pickles. Somehow pickles recently got cool, and they have been making a trendy appearance on restaurant menus everywhere. Chefs have been utilizing little bits of pickled vegetables as an alternative to citrus or vinegar, a new way of bringing acidic contrast to a dish. And while I’m sure that pickles will one day be as cliché as foams or truffle oil, I am at the moment really excited to experiment with pickling in my own kitchen.

To tell you the truth, I actually never imagined I would pickle my own vegetables until recently. Pickling seemed to fall into the category of Too Much Work For Home – something I think is a great idea, but too weird and time consuming to bother doing myself. As a result of media inundation (thanks Bon Appetit), though, pickling has gone the way of grinding coffee beans and making ice cream: it’s something I now enthusiastically do.

The purple cauliflower recipe you see here is actually a recipe I developed based on my initial foray into pickling, which was an unexpected success. I made those cauliflower pickles on a whim, an attempt to use up this beautiful hunk of purple mass I had brought home from the grocery store that day. The ratios for vinegar, salt, and water were at best an educated guess, and after mixing everything together I stuck the heavy jar of liquid and vegetable in the back of the fridge, expecting that I would pull it out in the morning to find it perhaps halfway palatable.

What I found the following day really caught me off guard. Not only had the cauliflower actually pickled, but it had taken on the spices I had added in a surprisingly effective way. Where I had expected to find muddy taste and crunchy texture, I instead found toasty heat and pungent anise flavor with a tender bite. I was an instant convert.

Pickled Purple Cauliflower

Makes 1 quart

I call for whole spices in this recipe, and I unfortunately can’t recommend that you substitute with ground spices, which would create a muddy flavor and coating on the vegetables. Feel free to make this recipe without spices, it will still create deliciously pungent pickled vegetables.

Ingredients:

1 tsp cumin seeds

3/4 tsp coriander seeds

3/4 tsp fennel seeds

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 cup honey

1 tsp salt

1 head purple (or white) cauliflower, cut into florets

1 1/2 cup boiling water

Toast the spices: Combine the spices in a pan and toast over medium heat for 1-2 minutes until they are fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from heat and crush with a mortar and pestle. (Alternatively, grind in a spice grinder or small food processor.) You only need to crack open the spices; do not grind into a powder.

Combine ingredients: In a large bowl or quart-sized jar, mix together the toasted and crushed spices with the vinegar, honey, and salt. Add the cauliflower, then top off with boiling water. Stir or shake to combine.

Pickle overnight: Place this bowl or jar in the refrigerator to pickle overnight. Pickled cauliflower will keep up to 2 weeks.

 

Thai Green Curry With Crispy Roast Chicken | Cooking With Bells On

Thai Green Curry with Crispy Roast Chicken, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Bok Choy

It is way too tempting to order in for dinner in New York City, particularly when the temperature outside is 12° and any of 200 or so nearby restaurants will bring food to you at the click of the button.

Thai Green Curry with Crispy Roast Chicken and Basil and Lime Wedge Garnishes

But now that Spring has arrived it’s time to muster up a little resilience against the lure of take-out containers and bicycle delivery men. In the name of saving a little more money to go towards our dream projects, Brian and I sat down a week ago and decided that our beloved takeout had to go. You see, even though we eat well, we still have a general budget of how much we spend on food each week; our weekly $30+ ramen/sushi/thai delivery indulgence ends up tacking an extra 20% onto that budget. Listen guys, if I learned anything from my job in finance, it’s that you don’t want drive up your expenses.

Crispy Roast Chicken, Basil, and Lime Wedges to Top the Curry

Well, delivery dinner may be so last week, but that doesn’t mean the food we had delivered has to go, as well. Recently I found myself craving some warm and spicy thai green curry, and so I sent myself into the kitchen to recreate this take-out favorite. As I was planning the dish, it occurred to me that I might be able to improve it a bit by giving the protein some respect and cooking it separately. For the rest of the dish, I played it fairly traditional, staying true to the flavors I craved – peppery ginger, fragrant lemongrass, creamy coconut milk, and tender Asian vegetables. What resulted was a lush bowl of thai curry, topped with a bit of succulent roast chicken that had a perfectly crispy skin. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Thai Green Curry with Crispy Roast Chicken, Mushrooms, and Bok Choy

Serves 2

Thai Green Curry With Crispy Roast Chicken | Cooking With Bells On

I loved this curry served on its own, almost as more of a soup. However, if you feel like you’re missing some starch, or if you just can’t imagine having curry without anything to sop up all the delicious liquid, go ahead and serve it over rice.

I noted in the ingredients that the fish sauce is optional… but saying so pains me. I made this dish twice, once forgetting the fish sauce and once including it, and I have to say that the fish sauce really brings the dish together. It’s like the anchovies in Caesar salad – you don’t know that they’re there, but it definitely doesn’t taste right without them. Having said that, if you’re the type that is iffy about the idea of anchovies in your salad dressing, then you can certainly leave the fish sauce out of your curry. You can find fish sauce (nam pla) in the Asian aisle of most grocery stores.

Ingredients:

2 chicken thighs, skin-on and preferably bone-in

2 tbsp butter or ghee

sea salt and red chili flakes

1 14 oz can coconut milk

2 tbsp green curry paste

1 finger-sized piece of ginger, cut into 3 strips vertically

2 stalks lemongrass, split lengthwise and bashed with the blunt side of a heavy knife

2 tsp. fish sauce (optional)

1 cup chicken broth

2 large handfuls shiitake mushrooms, sliced (substitute cremini or button, if necessary)

2 baby bok choy, quartered lengthwise

small handful basil leaves, sliced into ribbons, to garnish (optional)

2 lime wedges, to garnish

Sear and roast the chicken: Preheat the oven to 375º and place a pan over high heat. Allow the pan to heat for several minutes until it’s blazing hot. Meanwhile, coat the chicken thighs with the butter or ghee and season the skin with salt and chili flakes. (The best way to do this is to allow one hand to get messy with the butter and use the other hand for seasoning.) Place the chicken thighs skin side down in the hot pan and season the upward facing side. Sear for two or three minutes until the skin gets crispy, then flip and cook for two more minutes on the opposite side. Remove the chicken to a baking dish and place in the oven to finish cooking, about 15 minutes.

Prepare the curry: While the chicken is cooking, place a saucepan over medium-high heat on the stove. Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a boil. Allow to reduce by 1/3. After the coconut milk has concentrated a bit you can whisk in the curry paste. Add the ginger slices, bashed lemongrass stalks, fish sauce, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then simmer for five minutes. Once the ginger and garlic have steeped and fully perfumed the curry base, fish them out with tongs.

Add the vegetables: Set the chicken aside to cool a bit after it has finished cooking in the oven. With the curry base over medium heat, add the shiitake mushrooms and cook for about three minutes, until they begin to get tender. Add the bok choy to the curry, cover, and allow to steam for another two or three minutes. The curry is ready when a fork will pierce the bok choy with little resistance.

Serve: Slice the chicken thighs, discarding bones. (Actually, don’t discard – toss them in a freezer bag for future broth-making!) Serve the curry in large bowls, over rice or on its own. Place the chicken meat over the curry, and garnish with basil and lime wedges.