A HOT HOLIDAY TRADITION – “STEVE’S PEPPERS” RECIPE
***The following post, and this year’s batch of Steve’s Peppers is dedicated to my friend ROGER JONSSON, who passed away December 11, 2007, after a courageous battle with cancer. Roger was a remarkable man who left an indelible impression on everyone he met. In the spirit of the season, I invite fellow chileheads to post your words of comfort and condolence to the Jonsson family here.***
I started making my peppers about 5 years ago for friends at the holidays. When you first bottle them, they have such a festive look. They take relatively little time to make, are not expensive and are certainly one of the more unique gifts your friends will receive. Once you give a cruet of these peppers to a friend, they can continue to add peppers and vinegar on top of the old ones, literally forever. I have bottles of these peppers that I have kept going for over 12 years. They have a wonderful mellow flavor. Here is last year’s batch, one year later.
This is not really a pepper sauce, nor is it pickled peppers. Rather, it is a blend of vinegars infused with the flavors and heat of various peppers for the purpose of drizzling on certain foods ““ like Paella, onion rings, fried Okra, your favorite “Cue”, or a fried fish sandwich. I experimented with the ingredients in the off-season and came up with a recipe that has stood the test of time ““ 3 very simple ingredients:
- Chiles (any combo of Jalapeno, Serrano, Habanero or Cherry Peppers)
- Apple Cider Vinegar (1 part)
- Rice Vinegar (4 parts)
The methodology is simple. But before starting, take the proper precautions:
- Work in a well-ventilated room
- Wear an apron
- Wear a set of latex gloves while working, then wear a new set while cleaning up
- Not a bad idea to wear protective glasses too (I learned this the hard way)
So, let’s get started with this year’s batch, which I have lovingly named “Roger’s Stash”. It has a double meaning. Roger had a strikingly bushy moustache that just seemed to go with his personality. And I’d like to think that if I gave one of these bottles of peppers to Roger, he would love it enough to want to stash it away.
Step 1 ““ Sterilize your bottles or cruets in the dishwasher
Step 2 ““ Set everything up in advance. If you forget something, you will be rummaging around the kitchen spreading the heat from the peppers where unsuspecting people will pick it up and start burning themselves. Here, I have all the ingredients within easy reach.
Step 3 ““ Cut the chiles ““ long ones lengthwise, stubby ones in half or quarters, depending on the size. For this batch, I have some nice dark green Serranos and 3 colors of Habaneros ““ small, firm green ones, small yellow ones and large, ripe red ones.
Step 4 ““ Stuff the sliced chiles in any combo into a cruet or bottle. I use the end of a wooden chopstick to get them through the narrow neck of the cruet. Do not pack the peppers in too tightly, but fill the whole bottle with them.
Step 5 ““ Pour in a mixture of vinegars that is one part (20%) Apple Cider Vinegar and four parts (80%) Rice Vinegar (not to be confused with Rice Wine Vinegar). This combo of vinegars makes for a perfect host for the heat and flavor of the peppers. It is both tangy and mellow at the same time. Most importantly, it doesn’t overpower the pepper, or your food.
Step 6 ““ Cap the cruet or bottle, hold it tightly and jiggle the bottle while rotating it in different directions to release the trapped air. Open the bottle, tamp down the peppers lightly, then top off the bottle with vinegar until you have less than a half-inch of air below the stopper. Here is the finished product.
To personalize these, make a festive label or card and tie some ribbon around them. It’s wise to bottle a half-dozen more of these than you anticipate needing. They make a great little gift to bring along to a holiday party.
Enjoy, and happy holidays to all! In memory of Roger, I leave you with this:
“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.” – Anne Campbell