Jan and I were watching a BBC documentary series called The Spice Trail, detailing the sources, history and uses of six common spices. One of the spices detailed was black pepper. It turns out that the ornamental pepper trees of my youth have nothing to do with the spice on the table.
Piper nigrum is an Indian vine that is trained to grow up a tree trunk. The drupes are harvest before they are ripe and are either sold fresh or—depending on how they are processed—they are turned into black, green, or white pepper corns. The unprocessed fresh strands are sometimes available in some areas, but it is more common to find them pickled in brine.
Note: Since this spices comes from India, I assumed that a good Indian supermarket—of which there are two in my immediate area— would carry them. They had pickles of every description, but no pickled fresh green pepper. I went into Lion Market— on an off chance—to find that they not only had them, they carried two brands.
I looked at several recipes on-line for sauces made with pickled fresh green pepper. Almost all of them were minor variations of the same heavy sauce— beef stock, shallots, alcohol of some kind and heavy cream. I did found one that was a bit lighter. I finally decided that I was on my own, I would make something to please my own sensibilities.
Note: Cooking flour and fat for 1-2 minutes makes a “white roux.” If you cook the sauce for 5-6 minutes the roux becomes a light tan. As you continue to cook, it will get progressively darker until you get a Cajun black roux—or you burn it and have to start over. The longer you cook it the less it will thicken your sauce, but the more flavor—of its own—it will add to your dish.
Karl’s Green Pepper Sauce
1-2 Tbs. green peppercorns
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. flour, AP
2 Tbs. green onion, white part only
1 clove garlic, mashed to a paste
¾ cup whole milk
Pinch Kosher salt
1. Separate the pepper corns from their stem.
Tip: If you bite a single pepper corn it will seem quite spicy, however the milk of the sauce will buffer the spiciness quite a bit, so do not be shy. Your diners can control their own spice level by how much of the final sauce they take.
Note: Pickled green pepper corns are process just as they are removed from the vine as a long string studded with little pearls of pepper.
2. With the side of a wide knife crush the pepper and give them a few quick chops.
Tip: The slippery round balls are very hard to chop, if you do not crush them flat first.
Note: You are trying to open them up to release their flavor not turn them into a paste.
3. Put the butter in a small pot and add the flour. Cook until they make a tan roux, about 5-6 minutes.
4. Add the green pepper and garlic and cook one minute more, until fragrant.
5. Slowly stir in the most of milk and continue cooking and stirring until the sauce thickens.
Tip: After 3-4 minutes, decide if you need to add the rest of the milk or if the sauce is to your desired consistency.
6. Stir in salt to taste and transfer the sauce to a serving bowl.
7. Serve on the side of a roasted meat dish.