Sunday, November 24, 2013

The red and the black ... pepper, that is

Back around 1986 or thereabouts, when I had the very happy occasion of meeting Cajun Chef Paul Prudhomme at his K Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen for an interview for the old Louisville Times, we got to spend a little time in his kitchen banging some skillets around, and he gave me a handful of cooking tips that I’ve never forgotten.

One of the best of those tips was so simple that I do it routinely, without even thinking much about it: When you want to make a hot-and-spicy dish, don’t just go for the fire, but think about your ingredients and bring together piquant flavors that support each other while adding a bit of complexity to the heat.  

Specifically, don't just use red or black pepper but build a mix. 
On the red side, you name it, from Louisiana Hot Sauce or Central American habanero sauces to cayenne, dried red-pepper flakes or, maybe best of all, Asian fire such as Sriracha “Rooster Sauce” or, one of my favorites, Indonesian sambal oelek.  On the black side, make it freshly ground, please, and go with the best quality peppercorns you can find. I’m a big fan of Indian Tellicherry (from, and keep it around in pint jars, with one good pepper grinder for the table and another in the kitchen.

Tonight I reprised the Korean roasted brussels sprouts that I enjoyed in a local restaurant recently and sought to replicate at home the other night.   Both times, a big part of the key to success has been using a combination of ground Tellicherry and sambal oelek, and don’t be shy about either.  

Red and black. From this wild dish to something as simple as adding a kick to your scrambled eggs or bloody mary, it’s a working combo. I recommend it.