Arizona Homestead Heat: Preserving Peppers

Here at the Bear Cave, we like our food spicy. During the summer and early fall, we love to overdo on fresh peppers in spicy salsa, pimento and cheese sandwiches, stuffed bell peppers and many other pepper dishes. Once in a while, when the poblanos are big enough, Barbara treats us to a great dish of chili relleno, peppers stuffed with a great cheese, breaded, and fried in hot neutral oil. I can’t resist them and have to say it’s a good thing she makes them on special occasions only.

By the way, anchos and poblanos are the same pepper.  Down here in the southwest, we refer to the Capsicum annuum as a poblano when it’s fresh and an ancho when its dried.

We’ve grown four kinds of peppers this year at the Bear Cave: bells, jalapenos, anchos/poblanos, and pimentos. We find that the sweet, heavy bells and pimentos are delicious if we allow them to ripen, then roast and pickle them. Many cooks recommend roasting peppers under the broiler or over the direct flame of a gas range in the kitchen, but around here it’s still WAY too hot for that. We prefer to keep the heat outside by using the gas barbecue. The peppers acquire a rich, smoky flavor and the kitchen stays cool.

So it’s pepper harvest and time to crank up the barbecue and roast those babies! Some peppers, especially pimentos and red bells, are perfect candidates for this treatment. They are thick-walled and sturdy, which makes them easy to peel once they’re roasted. Besides being much easier to peel prior to pickling when roasted, we enjoy the flavor of a smoky pepper.

The process is simple. Turn all the bbq’s burners on high (Our unit has three, and we roast up to a dozen peppers at a time.) and place the whole peppers over the hottest part of the grill. Protect your hands from the heat with oven mitts or heavy gloves, and use long bbq tongs to turn the peppers from time to time as they char. You want to end up with the peppers black all over, the skin completely charred.

Once the peppers are well blackened, they are put in a sealed container. We use an oven-proof casserole dish with a lid and place the peppers directly in the sealed container to steam after roasting. Peeling is a breeze. We then pickle the roasted peppers in the same way we pickle fresh jalapenos which we describe below.

Jalapeno peppers are easy to preserve. Just rinse, halve, and remove the stems and seeds. Wear gloves to protect your hands from the hot pepper juice, which can sting skin.

Note: Do not handle these peppers with your bare hands and then rub your eyes or any other sensitive part of your body. Some serious discomfort will be the consequence. But with some care, the very chemical, capsaicin, that can sting will make a great eating experience.

Barbara is very good about removing the seeds and inner tissue from the peppers. They are milder and still very flavorful with the seeds removed. I admit that when making salsa or pico de gallo, I leave the seeds in the mix. I enjoy the contrast between muchopicante jalapenos and the garlicky frijoles that I make up in a cast iron skillet and then roll in a tortilla with my HOT jalapeno salsa.

Note: If you are experimenting with these fresh peppers and feel like your mouth is on fire, have some milk handy. It is the best fire extinguisher I know for a picante capsaicin overload.

Because we preserve smaller batches of peppers, we don’t use our big canning kettle. Any covered kettle will serve for canning as long as you place an insert of some kind in the bottom to prevent the jar bottoms from contacting the bottom of the kettle. We use the insert from our pressure cooker.

Pack the pepper halves into clean pint-size canning jars which have been heated in boiling water. Then cover them with a mixture of 2 cups distilled vinegar, 1 cup water, and 1 teaspoon salt, heated to boiling. Leave 1/4 inch between the top of the liquid and the rim of the jar, apply the lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. More detailed information is on our web site, www.grow-cook-eat-beans.com. Check the drying and pickling pages.

The pickling process is nearly the same for pimentos or other roasted peppers. Roast them according to the process we’ve described above, remove the stems and seeds, peel and pack them into clean, heated pint jars, fill with the pickling mixture to within 1/4 inch of the rim of the jar, and process for 15 minutes.

Pickled jalapenos can add zip to spaghetti sauce, chili, or salsa. Pickled roasted peppers are marvelous on sandwiches or in dips. We hope you enjoy these ways of preserving the bounty of your summer garden!

Published on Sep 7, 2011

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