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Hold the pepper.

Sara Dickerman, whom I think is terrific, has a thought-provoking piece in Slate asking why we default to peppering everything. I diverge from her in that I think we don't even need a second default spice, but I agree that black pepper is way overused (not in amount but in frequency). I often skip the pepper, whereas my husband puts it on everything before even tasting.

What do you think?


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  1. I add it to a lot of things, but never before tasting (except on something like fried eggs, where it's obvious whether or not there's any already there).

    1. Like most people who want to use less salt, I compensate by using more black pepper than I once did. Restaurants use salt more liberally than pepper. While salt used during cooking is not visible, black pepper can be. Adding pepper before tasting is a safer bet than adding salt.

      2 Replies
      1. re: greygarious

        But the bigger question is, why pepper? Why not something else, depending on the dish?

        1. re: sweetpotater

          Pepper doesn't have to be YOUR default spice. I happen to like it a lot. I buy Tellicherry pepper from Penzeys and I like to grind it fresh. I even like to crunch down on a cooked pepper from a braised or pressure cooked dish. I suggest that you request no pepper at restaurants if this makes a dish unpalatable to you. As to your basic question, I don't really know, but pepper does enliven a lot of food. It is good even with cooked fruit--to my taste.

      2. I have often wondered that myself and my default is to NOT use pepper, unless I specifically want that flavor. I am not trying to limit my salt intake in any way, though, and I can understand why those who are might use pepper more frequently. Still, I agree with you, sweetpotater, that there are usually other spices that I would prefer to use to bump up the flavor of a dish. If I want something to taste like black pepper, I use it (in quantity), but if I don't, I don't bother with it at all.

        1. I default to pepper for savoury cooking for the same reason as I default to cinnamon for sweet dishes - because I love the flavour. The only reason I'd leave either of them out is if I specifically did NOT want that flavour note in the finished product.

          1. I read the article today. I have to disagree. I really like pepper. It can be counted on to add flavor in cooking and at the table. I don't usually add at the table, however.

            People who adore srichchacha probably use it rather like people who pepper their prepared food before they take a taste. Its probably what you come to like as a default flavor. But unless you load it down, black pepper usually enhances flavors.

            1. I love black pepper, but I would love to see Turkish red pepper on the table at non-Turkish restaurants. (Actually, I've never heard of "Marash" pepper; I always thought Turkish pul biber was the same thing as Aleppo pepper…)

              I like piment d'Espelette, too, but it's too expensive to be a serious contender.

              1. It was a revelation to me when I tried a nice slice of summer tomato with just salt and olive oil, no pepper. The flavor was so much intense and concentrated that it made me a non-pepper user when good fresh tomatoes are involved. For virtually all other savory foods, I usually will try them without pepper first but most likely will be happier when they have a hit of freshly ground black pepper.

                1. Having just finished a bowl of fish chowder with fresh-ground black pepper AND cayenne, I fail to understand the reason for the objection.

                  Now I want a pepper steak for dinner!

                  1. I understand that I'm a freak for black pepper. There's no way anybody on earth would put enough pepper in the dishes that I put pepper on to suit me. Any Harry Potter fans will know about the Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans that Jelly Belly put out. My absolute favorite was the black pepper jelly beans.
                    I disagre that pepper is way overused, but I love it on almost everything, so I know I'm a freak for the flavor. That said, I pepper everything more when I have the chance.
                    We all have our strengths and weaknesses, pepper is one of mine. Probably the biggest one.

                    1. There are things you DON'T have to put things on, then there things you HAVE to put things on, simple as that!

                      1. Tonight, I just had the BEST Vanilla black pepper ice cream......

                        .........using pepper in unusual ways elevates it to "extraordinary".