PEPPERED WITH QUIRKS
Funky peppercorns that are hot right now
Funky peppercorns that are hot right now
A precious commodity dating from the spice trade until today, pepper is thought of as the king of spices. Fruit of a vine called piper nigrum, it takes various forms, depending on when it is harvested and how it is treated. Green peppercorns, for instance, are picked before they are ripe and preserved thereafter. Black peppercorns are picked just as they are about to ripen, then boiled and left to dry in the sun. White peppercorns have their skins removed before or after they are dried, while rare red peppercorns are picked when fully ripened.
This condiment’s diverse character and array of perfumes make it an indispensable addition to any spice larder. For those of us living in Southeast Asia, how privileged we are that some of the world’s largest pepper producers grow these feisty elixirs right in our backyard. Here are a few varieties that are charming chefs and home cooks alike.
Fresh and Perky
Produced by farmers in Borneo and marketed by the Malaysian Pepper Board, Sarawak black pepper is well-loved by chefs for its fresh, citrusy aromas, while its white pepper compatriot makes a good option for its clean, sharp flavours and unobtrusive hue.
At the newly opened Madame Fan for instance, Sarawak black pepper peps up a succulent Australian ribeye. At Restaurant Ibid, chef Woo Wai Leong uses Sarawak white pepper in his soy bean ice cream, sesame cake and Sarawak white pepper meringue dessert. He says, “I use Sarawak white pepper for its light, almost floral notes. It doesn’t have the full-bodied back-of-the-throat hit of most peppers, which isn’t desirable for this particular application. In essence, it has got a clean heat which doesn’t get much in the way of other flavours. My mom is also from Kuching, Sarawak, so this is one of the ways I showcase the source of my ideas and inspirations for Restaurant Ibid.”
King of the Crop
Grown in Kampot, Southwest Cambodia, prized Kampot pepper comes in green, black, red and white varieties, with the latter two being the rarest. Kampot red pepper, for one, according to the Kampot Pepper Promotion Association’s website, has a “powerful and fruity aroma”, while the white pepper is strong and spicy with hints of “fresh grass and lime”.
At Cure restaurant, chef Andrew Walsh uses Kampot black pepper in his pork loin and pineapple dish. Says chef Walsh, “We crust the pork in Kampot black pepper and juniper. The pepper with its slightly floral and sweet flavour really enhances the taste of the rich Iberico Pork loin. We have tried many peppers, but the long lingering taste of Kampot pepper is the one we prefer to use in the restaurant.”
Not Just Fish Sauce
Phu Quoc Island, located in the Gulf of Thailand, south of Vietnam, is often a location marker for top quality Vietnamese fish sauce. This holds true for the country’s pepper as well. Phu Quoc black pepper is pungent and spicy, making it versatile and easily used in a variety of dishes, while its red pepper, often a dark brownish-red colour, has fruity, floral aromas, and goes well with a range of meats and seafood.
Black peppercorns from Lampung island in Sumatra, Indonesia are shade-grown with care, and loved for their smoky aroma and sharp notes. Its relatively slow burn of ascending heat makes it a good match with a wide range of dishes and preparations from steaks to roasted chicken, grilled vegetables to marinades.
Says local spice master Anthony Leow of Anthony The Spice Maker, who brings in Lampung black pepper as one of his raw spices, “This spice is pungent and fiery. I would usually recommend my customers to use it in Asian-style cooking such as pig’s stomach soup, the Singaporean favourite bak kut teh, or to sprinkle on hot Chinese soup.”
Being under the Piperaceae family, Java long pepper is a spice that’s strictly not a pepper at all. It is nonetheless gaining popularity for its woody aromas and complex flavours, including sharp, and even sweet notes. Resembling catkins, or funnel-shaped flower clusters, Java long peppers can be used with bold-flavoured curries, meats or desserts.
At new all-day dining restaurant in the Marina Bay financial district, The Spot, chef Lee Boon Seng serves beef short ribs accompanied by a rich, luscious sauce that combines Java long peppers, Chinese wine and a wealth of other sauces.