Memories of my parents’ kitchen come in waves. It happens when I pull a peach-almond pound cake out of the oven, when the mashed potatoes are perfectly lumpy with the red skin folded in, and when I replicate my dad’s exclamatory “mmm” upon getting the right balance of horseradish and ketchup in his famous shrimp cocktail sauce.
But one day, I remember my dad sending me to pick up green peppercorns from the grocery store. I didn’t have the first clue what this slimy looking ingredient could possibly add to any dish, but I brought them home and they were put away in the pantry. Since I wasn’t living at home anymore and my grocery run was during a quick holiday stay, I didn’t get to try them.
Green peppercorns never entered my mind again until Jeff and I went on a trip to Prague over the Easter weekend. On our last night, we went to a tiny restaurant called Restaurace U Cerveneho Kola where I had the most incredible beef tenderloin with natural green peppercorn sauce. I was hooked.
I searched London for green peppercorns and found a couple different options: dried and in brine. The dried green peppercorns offer a peppery spice bomb that is much softer in flavor to the black peppercorn coupled with a nice crunch. You don’t have to grind it to enjoy the flavor, but of course you can. The brined green peppercorn actually tasted much spicier than the dried and preserved version. The brine keeps the berry soft and easy to chew, so the first sensation you get on the tongue is nice and pleasant–almost citrusy. Then, slowly, your mouth turns into a spicy, warm exclamation point of heat.
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Some quick facts about the peppercorn: it’s actually a fruit or berry from the piper nigrum plant often found in tropical areas like Java, Malaysia, India and so on. It’s the berry itself that is dried and sold as a spice. The common black pepper you see on restaurant tables or ground in your own kitchen is the cooked and dried unripe fruit. Green peppercorns are different in that they are not cooked.
The fun looking pink peppercorns are actually from a completely different plant from the piper nigrum and relate more to the cashew family causing allergic reactions in those who avoid nuts.
Green peppercorns are traditionally served in a cream reduction sauce, which is a shame. As a lactose-intolerant foodie, I avoid anything cream based. Maybe that’s why it has taken me this long to discover them. But green peppercorns are also paired with butter, wine, brandy, and cognac. So, with cream out of the way, liquor and butter it is!
I found two recipes to that showcase the green peppercorn but also take you to another corner of the world. First, I prepared a Green Peppercorn Prawns dish from the depths of Cambodia. The second dish I cooked was Sherried Turkey Cutlets with a green peppercorn sauce, which actually seems rather British. I have adapted these dishes with some of my own flair and here are my notes and observations.
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Green Peppercorn Prawns
adapted from Spice Trip with some changes
1 tbsp Toasted Sesame Oil
1 inch Fresh Ginger, chopped or diced
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
20 Prawns, raw and deveined
1.5 tbsp Green Peppercorn in brine (2 tbsp dried)
4-5 Curry Leaves, dried
2 tbsp Oyster Sauce
1 tbsp Soy Sauce (gluten-free)
1 tbsp Fish Sauce
2 Small Tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp Parsley, chopped (cilantro if you prefer)
1) Prepare all of your ingredients. When you start cooking, the process will go very quickly, so it’s best to have everything prepared.
2) Heat the oil over a small skillet. Let it get hot before adding the ginger and garlic. After the garlic just starts to brown, add the prawns, peppercorns, and curry leaves. Watch carefully as the prawns will cook very fast and turn to rubber before you know it.
3) Just as the prawns begin to turn pink, stir in the oyster sauce, soy sauce and fish sauce. Stir until the prawns are completely pink. Take off the heat.
4) While the pan is still hot, stir in the tomatoes and parsley. Taste and add more spice if you wish. Squeeze the lime over the prawns and serve.
What took me by surprise more than anything in this dish was how spicy it was. And I love spicy food! All of the heat came from the ginger and green peppercorns. From the original recipe, I brought down the amount of peppercorns used. If you really like spicy food, feel free to up the dosage. I also adjusted the sauces because fish sauce mixed with oyster sauce can be rather pungent. Play with the amounts to suit your taste.
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Sherried Turkey Cutlets with Green Peppercorn Sauce
adapted from Epicurious with notes and adaptations below
1/2 pound turkey cutlets
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup red onion
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup dry sherry
1 tsp green peppercorns, in brine (or 2 tsp dried)
1/2 tsp honey
1/3 cup chicken stock/broth
1) Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit/200 Celsius.
2) If your turkey cutlets are more than 1/2 inch thick, wrap them in parchment paper and bash them to that height with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer.
3) Grab a skillet and bring it up to a high heat. Add the oil and onion. Let the onion cook for a little bit and soften around the edges. Add the garlic, but don’t let it burn. On the high heat, it can burn quickly.
4) Put in the turkey cutlets and sear on each side. Each side should take about 2 minutes. When golden brown, remove from the skillet, place in a heat-proof pan and transfer to the oven until completely cooked through, about 10 minutes.
5) In the skillet, bring the heat down to medium and de-glaze with the sherry. Add the peppercorns and stir until it reduces to a syrup, about three minutes.
6) When the sauce is reduced to about two tablespoons, add the honey and chicken stock or broth. Cook on this medium heat until it reduces to 1/4 cup, about five to seven minutes.
7) Remove the turkey from the oven and let it rest before serving to redistribute the juices. After a few minutes, plate the meat and spoon the sauce over the turkey. Serve and enjoy!
This dish was delicious. The turkey was juicy and perfectly cooked through and the sauce didn’t have the same blow-my-face-off spice as it did in the Cambodian prawns dish, but it was perfectly paired with the dry sherry and honey, which must have brought the spice level down.
I changed quite a bit from the original recipe because I am gluten-free, and I didn’t think dredging the turkey in flour would add anything but calories. By searing the meat and putting it in the oven to finish cooking, you retain some really wonderful flavor without added fat or flour. Also, with the peppercorns, sherry and chicken stock, I felt like no added seasonings were needed, but adjust to suit your taste.
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These two recipes do a great job in utilizing the green peppercorn with different cuisines, but what to do with the remaining lot if you don’t want to wait for a sauce to reduce? I sprinkle these little spice bombs on any dish that I’m about to eat from tops of soups to filet of fish to an omelet.
So go forth and experiment with this fabulous spice and see which color and taste adds specific pizzazz to your plate. And don’t forget to tell me what you think!