From M., 27 May 2011, getting a good char on sweet peppers?
Q: I decided to experemint with a stuffed red capsicum (bell pepper to the Americans) tonight. The stuffing worked beautifully. I fried some left over bacon with mushrooms and two small cloves of galic in olive oil and butter for 5-10 minutes, added some fresh thyme from the garden along with cracked balck pepper. I wooshed the mixture up in a food processor with some boiled rice – and it was deliscious.
Unfortunately, my attmept at scorching the red capsicum in my (40 year old electric) oven did not result in the nicely blackened exterior and sweet flesh to the capsicum that I was hoping for. I suspect this was partly the result of using a dodgy 1970s electric oven (minus an instruction book, as no such instructions were provided when I bought the house) combined with a mistaken attempt to slice the top off the capsicum and bake it standing up.
I suspect that if I sliced the capsicum horizontaly and was able to scorch the skin in a gas flame, that I might have got the sweet/scorched flavour for the pepper that I was hoping for. That said, the actual stuffing (placed inside the pepper and cooked for half an hour at about 220C) was deliscious (especially when I added some butter to the top of the stuffing at the last minute – in an attempt at a gratin style finish [minus any cheese as it is the end of the week and I go shopping tomorrow]).
Can you suggest any way to get the scorched/sweet pepperr flavour (short of spending 50 thousand Australian dollars on replacing my kitchen)?
A: Thanks for your question.
Full disclosure: I hate, absolutely HATE, bell peppers. Love chiles, hate the bells. Actually, I only really despise the green ones. The red peppers are tolerable, but I wouldn’t exactly knock over my mother, or even my mother in law, for a stuffed red pepper.
For those of you who also hate green bell pepper, and are wondering why, here’s the culprit: 2-methoxy-3-isobutyl pyrazine. One of the most potent odorants known, 2-methoxy-3-isobutyl pyrazine is responsible for the unmistakeable aroma of green pepper, and is detectable in minute quantities – 0.1 nanograms per liter. That’s one tenth of one billionth of a gram. Absolutely terrifying.
But enough about that. Let’s get back to your question. It seems to have two parts. First, getting that “scorched” flavor. I assume you don’t actually want it to taste burned, which to me is crazily unappetizing, although my husband informs me that some people like that burned taste and papery skin. But I don’t care for that. So instead, I will assume you mean you want to char or blister the pepper skin, peel it off, and eat the part inside. To achieve that, you need to blister the pepper before you stuff and bake it. You don’t need to cut the pepper in half first or even remove the stem.
You can achieve this in two ways. First, place the peppers directly on a rack under the broiler in your oven, using the maximum heat possible (perhaps 500F/260C). Wait until the skin chars and blisters, turn it over and repeat, and remove from the broiler. If you don’t have a broiler (which, what? You do have a broiler, trust me), hold the pepper with metal tongs in the gas flame of your stove (don’t block the holes where the gas emerges from the burners; hold the pepper in the flame) Turn it as the skin blisters. Either way, once the skin is mostly charred, place the pepper in a large bowl and cover tightly with clingfilm (you can use a paper bag, folded over, as well). Allow the pepper to steam inside the bowl or bag for a couple of minutes. Peel the skin from the pepper. Proceed as you like – by cutting off the top and removing the seeds, etc., and stuffing whole, or cutting into strips and using for another purpose. I believe I describe the technique in an earlier post. By the way, this technique works for certain other thin-skinned vegetables as well, like those in the Solanaceae family, like eggplant and tomatoes.
Second, you question whether you can achieve this in an electric oven. Yes, you can. My ovens are both electric. The relevant question is how hot your oven can get, not whether your oven is electric or gas. As long as your oven gets suitably hot, you can blister the skin. If it doesn’t, you’ll want to use a gas flame on the stovetop. You can’t and mustn’t use an electric stove to char your pepper, though, so don’t try.
One last thing. Most expressions of the stuffed pepper do NOT involve roasting and/or removing the skin before stuffing. Once charred and steamed, and the skin removed, the pepper will be quite soft and will collapse. It may or may not stand up once stuffed, which may be one reason why peppers rarely are cooked before stuffing and baking. If you want to try it, though, I recommend standing the peppers up in a muffin tin (or a tea cake tin) and filling before baking or broiling.