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Nov 1, 2008 09:33 AM

Pepper on Pepper.. When is mixing pepper flavors not OK?

This has always made me wonder. Black pepper is so ubiquitous and innocuous. It is called for in so many recipes.
When do you not want to mix pepper flavors or when do you commonly mix them?
An example would be black pepper and cayenne; it seems common. Black pepper with chipotles? Chili powder and black pepper? Seems like some pepper flavors might fight or that you might not want to add black pepper, on occasion, so others flavors would be more up front.
Then there is the size of the pepper component: fine ground versus coarse or cracked black peppercorns. Smashed green (or black), peppercorns and chunks of jalapeno versus ground, where it can be totally infused or you get bursts of flavor.... and whether you add it early or late (or when it's served).
Are there any rules?

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  1. I have been guilty of over-embelishment of heat sources in spicy creations; I am now a disciple of less-is-best. Chipotle (which is of course smoked jalapeno), jalapeno, serrano, and habanero should stand alone, without peppercorns. Just my opinion.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      Thanks! Should a habanero, with its distinctive flavor, stand alone or are they ever mixed with serranos, jalapenos, or vice-versa?
      I really like EXTRA black pepper (or sometime white pepper-which is black without the husk), on caesar salad, mashed potatoes, pinto beans or asparagus. When I eat those I don't combine any other peppers, except for the beans; then I'm adding jalapenos (haven't thought to try others).

      1. re: Scargod

        I frequently make a poblano-sweet corn-sweet shrimp stew. Poblanos are fickle; when they don't have enough kick, I fold in a minced habanero. My usual guacamole has 1/2 of a habanero per aguacate. Most of the spicy dishes beg for a balance of salt.

      2. re: Veggo

        Oh but white pepper and spicy dried chiles marry so well. And serrano with a little green pepper? Yum! I agree that you should mostly keep peppercorns away from chipotles (although there are some exceptions), but pink pepper goes well with them.

      3. Indian cooks aren't afraid to use all the 'hot' spices in a dish - garlic, ginger, black pepper, chilies.

        You could probably also find Chinese examples.

        Mexican cooking often uses several types of chilies. Perhaps the most common combination would several of the mild ones (ancho, pasilla, guajillo), with one of the hot ones to taste. They also use black pepper, though I can't think of a dish where it is prominent. A mole is a good example of a Mexican sauce that uses mix of spices.

        4 Replies
        1. re: paulj

          Correct. There is the "holy trinity" of ancho, pasilla and guajillo as is used in moles.

          I can remember several times having pinto (or similar; eat nopal, please forgive my naivete), beans, usually some form of refried, that were heavy on black pepper (the only pepper in the dish). This was not in Mexico, but places in the US; probably Texas.

          While garlic, onions, horseradish and other ingredients can have "heat", I am hung up on black pepper which is a berry, not a chile. It also loses it's flavors and potency if exposed to air and light. I wonder if there is a pepper faction as there are coffee bean mavens?

          So I ask, "Is there anything in Larousse Gastronomique (which I'm too lazy to dig out), or elsewhere that says that certain hot things don't mix?

          1. re: Scargod

            "potency if exposed to air and light" ? Is this why I can't find a capable bailbondsman?

            1. re: Veggo

              That's right. When exposed to the bright light of day, some things quickly wither away and become much less attractive and viable. Behave yourself!

            2. re: Scargod

              As a related question - what dishes use a significant level of black pepper, enough to taste 'hot'? Two that come to mind are Chinese hot and sour soup, and Italian Pepposo (beef shanks cooked with pepper and wine).

              One Italian cookbook claims that back in the days when black pepper was quite expensive, some cooks saved the whole peppercorns from salami until they had enough for their stew.

              Black pepper is one those east Indies spices the Columbus sought. Instead he found chiles. He also mistook allspice for pepper, hence its names like Jamaica pepper, pimento, and botanical nane, Pimenta dioica.