Sunday, November 4, 2007

You've all seen it in recipes. The ingredient list doesn't say "ground pepper", it says "freshly ground pepper". Sometimes the word "freshly" is even italicized as if to convince you of the supreme importance of getting out your pepper mill. So, is fresh grinding really necessary? No. It's not. There are some cases when fresh ground pepper is better tasting or desirable in some other way, but it is never necessary. Cases in point: 1) I think fresh pepper tastes better when it is on anything raw (salad) or barely cooked (when added to a sauce at the very last second before serving). This is because I like the bite of the freshly released pepper oils. I also like the texture of larger pepper corn pieces. 2) When grilling, larger pieces of pepper are desirable so you have a more scattered placement of pepper on you item (steak, eggplant slice, etc) than you could achieve with fine ground pepper. There are other similar instances, but when something is simmering for a while or the other flavors in your dish are going to out-shout the pepper, the benefits of fresh grinding are lost on me. When you've gotten home from work at 6 pm or later and you need a half a teaspoon of pepper for your three bean chili, the only thing freshly grinding it will do for you is put more time between you and dinner. We have a very functional pepper mill that lives on our stove, but we also have a nice jar of coarsely ground black pepper in the spice rack on the counter. I refill them at about the same rate, and our dinners don't seem to have suffered any ill effects.

6 comments:

Flynn said...

This is a question that must be asked:

What are panko breadcrumbs? How are they different from normal breadcrumbs?

Please, fill me with your culinary knowledge!

J said...

Panko breadcrmbs are a Japanese-style breadcrumb that you can buy at most grocery stores now. They are larger and crunchier than your standard store-bought breadcrumb. We stock both whole wheat and Italian flavored white panko crumbs at our house at all times. I think they're miraculous.

Lisa said...

I have to disagree about pepper! We don't use it often enough to make having a separate jar of ground pepper worth it, because it loses flavor too quickly (3-6 months sees us use less than 1/4 of our jar). But whole corns last quite a bit longer because their oils aren't exposed to air and don't go rancid. I agree with you completely that there's no difference provided you go through it quickly enough, but for us, the fresh is worth it just for spice quality.

MJ said...

Lisa (and others)--I once saw Emeril Lagasse talk on his show about the supposed 6-month window for spice quality. He ranted for like 5 minutes about the fact that old spices are fine, you just need to use *more* of them. In our experience, that seems to be true--the key is to always add pepper *to taste*. Even old pepper works if you use enough of it!

Lisa said...

Fair enough, but no food or spice, especially those whose flavor is dependent on essential oils, lasts forever! :D

J said...

I totally agree that nothing lasts forever, but also that using more will get you by with most spices. Other factors affecting this debate are how often you cook (a lot => higher spice use), how much of a spice you are able to buy, and how you store it. I have a wonderful bulk food store, where I go to refill my spice jars. Thus, I buy large amounts of things we use often and much smaller amounts of spices we use rarely. I just was in the store (By The Pound for you Ann Arborites - a wonderful local resource for bulk staples, not just spices)and bought about 2 teaspoons of fenugreek (frequently used in Indian food for the preparation of pickles, curry powders and pastes) because we only use it in a few recipes. This type of store is not a luxury everyone has. That said, I expect I refill our pepper supplies (ground and whole corn) every two to three months, so I'm not as worried about them getting old. Last, airtight spice jars really help lengthen spice life.