Speaking of pepper...some questions
Wondering what people's opinions are about fine vs. coarse grind of pepper in cooking. What do most people use? Ina's pepper always looks fairly coarse. But when a recipe calls for a teaspoon of "freshly ground pepper" are they assuming a certain type of grind? Wouldn't there be quite a difference between using 1t of fine pepper vs. 1t of coarse?
I think it's personal preference. I have a friend who likes his pepper so coarse he has to chew it, no matter what he's eating. I find that a bit overpowering and sometimes unpleasant.
I use coarse pepper primarily to season the outside of steaks and other large cuts of meat. If I'm putting pepper in a soup or pasta, I like it fairly fine so it incorporates well with the other flavors in the dish.
This is a generalization, but well-written recipes will usually say "finely ground," "coarsely ground," or "ground." If it just says "ground," I assume they mean something akin to pre-ground pepper from a can.
My reply may sound weird since I have a high tolerance for the pungency of chiles. I find ground black pepper harsh in that it scratches my throat. Therefore, I rarely use it in my culinary endeavors. Capsicums (hot pepper pods and their ground products) replace the gustatory effect of black pepper very well.
Where is it written that ground black pepper must accompany salt in so many recipes? Yes, I know...in cookbooks, but why?
A case in point, my wife likes Italian sweet sausage made by a particular manufacturer. The hot sausage made by the same outfit contains way too much black pepper. So my wife buys only the sweet Italian stuff and I add ground red chile powder to my servings.
I agree regarding the abuse of black pepper. A fellow SF hound once told me that a professional chef (can't remember the name) who was ranting about the overuse of pepper. Ever since then I have been more thoughtful about when I add it to dishes. I still use it quite often, but only with a purpose. And when I do, I the taste is much more obvious that it used to be.
Anyway, as to the original question, it depends upon the application. For steak au poivre, I like to use extremely coarse grind, ideally each corn broken in half and that's about it. For caesar salad, a bit finer but still coarse (each corn split into abour 4 pieces). In each of those cases I think the crunchy texture and big punch of pepper make the dish great. But for most applications (soups, seasoning meats, etc.) I use a fairly fine grind. Not powdery fine like you sometimes see in restaurant S&P shakers, but fine enough that I don't actually feel the pepper in my mouth.
Recipes often say, "season" or "salt and pepper to taste." I think this refers to quantity and grind size. Sometimes, you might want the pungent power and assertive mouth-feel of a coarse grind, others you might just want the flavor to subtly accent the others. This is up to you and you'll get a feel for how you like your pepper ground in different preparations.
Just about everybody has said most of what I was going to say.
From a commercial kitchen point of view, the size of the grind has more to do with the aesthetics of the finished product.
Coarse Ground pepper is indeed wonderful for pepper-seared filet, burgers, and other "big hunks of meat" where the finished product has a dark crust and large dots of pepper do not detract from the color, but enhance the texture. Since Pepper is plant material, it can burn/char which is a desireable flavor.
Medium/table grind is wht you usually get in restaurant shakers. It's fine- as in pleasant. Not to chewy- no sudden POPS of pepper, but you can still see where the flakes land. IMO, this is the most mediocre of all pepper grinds because it's usually pre-ground in a factory who knows how long ago and tends to be rather bland.
Fine ground pepper is useful when a fine even distribution of the flavor is disired, but little or none of it is to be seen. Soups, sauces, white meats, fish, etc, etc, will often have a fine ground pepper seasoning so as not to appear mottled or damaged or dirty. That's why white pepper is only sold in whole peppercorns or fine ground- it is supposed to be invisible when it is added to foods.
An additional point of note- "seasoning" for the past 150 years refers only to salt and pepper, while "flavoring" includes spices and herbs (and vinegars and spirits, etc). Now that the world's home kitchens use kosher salt, it's no secret that coarse ground pepper and kosher salt have the same texture (I season a chicken breast with a two finger pinch of salt and a one finger pinch of CGBP).
And by the way, I LOVER pepper- I'm not a huge fan of capisiums, so I like the heat provided by peppercorns, which have their own flavor without dramatically changing the character of a dish.