A while back I wrote about salt. Pure and simple. I thought now would be a good time to redress the balance and pen something about it’s natural bedfellow – black pepper.
These punchy little fruits are the dried berries of the pepper tree. They grow like tightly packed, streamline bunches of grapes throughout Asia but are thought to have originated in India where they have been used as a seasoning for well over 4000 years.
From India, the plant was traded throughout Asia and now grows in abundance all over the continent. But Kochi, India remains the spiritual home of the spice and the International Pepper Exchange still has its headquarters there, despite Vietnam being the world’s most prolific producer.
Peppercorns are the most widely traded spice in the world, accounting for a whopping fifth (in monetary terms) of all goods in this bracket.
The 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries saw Europe’s ruling factions desperate to monopolise the lucrative spice trade and by 1494 the Portuguese had managed to gain exclusive rights to this new ‘black gold.’
But as Portuguese hegemony was usurped by British and Dutch colonial successes, their influence diminished and the spice routes were opened up.
The result was an increase in supply to Europe and a subsequent fall in price.
Now black peppercorns are a commodity taken for granted and the familiar peppermill is near ubiquitous in Western kitchens. Why? Simply because freshly ground black pepper is a near perfect seasoning. In moderation it is unobtrusive but able to lend a faint warmth and depth of flavour to many dishes.
It compliments the flavour of a vast variety of cuisines from steaming bowls of hearty stew to simply roasted pieces of meat. Plates of pasta and crispy edged rounds of pizza, topped with melting cheese and sweet tomatoes, would be unthinkable without a last minute turn of an oversized peppermill. Likewise slow cooked daubes or quickly fried pieces of fish. A good steak, cooked quickly and seasoned with only salt and pepper is a thing of simple beauty.
But it must be freshly ground.
Pre-ground black pepper, the stuff that looks like the contents of a vacuum cleaner after it’s been used to clean a student’s bedroom, is a total waste of time and belongs in the kitchen as much as a bacon butty belongs at a Bar Mitzvah.
Don’t do it.
It’s hard to think of a recipe that showcases this kitchen essential in the way previous initiates to this Hall of Fame have enjoyed (although both cheese on toast and Bloody Marys would be far less enjoyable without it).
But try this one on for size, it’s brevity and simplicity are part of its appeal
Pineapple & Black Pepper
You will need:
Some black pepper
No, really, that’s it.
Prepare your pineapple in whichever way you normally do. Personally, I think long, thin strips are ideal. Arrange over a large plate. Grind a little black pepper over the slices, making sure each one has had a little of the magic. Go easy.
Leave the whole lot in the fridge for at least two hours. Remove and eat. Preferably with the glowing orb of the setting sun in the background and the dying embers of a well used barbecue in the fore. Trust me on this. It’s incredible.