Not to spend two weeks on peppers but… well, actually, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. At our last Thursday Tea Party, I shared my day at the wonderful Hatch Chile Festival along with photos of my pepper plunder. My 20 lbs. of roasted Hatch chile peppers have now been consumed, jarred and frozen, and/or given to dear El Paso friends as gifts. Yes, that’s how many I have—a year’s worth in my freezer and we gave them away. This week, however, I was left to deal with the 15 lbs. of Hatch jalapeños. One must pickle peppers when they are at their ripest. Too soon and they lack the developed heat; too late and they have a sour sweetness beneath the burn that I don’t particularly care for. It’s the same reason I don’t enjoy mangos and pineapples—that fruity sweet-sour thing. (Odd, yes, yes, I know. I’m a picky eater.) So I found a book on pickling: The Joy of Pickling by Linda Ziedrich. While she doesn’t directly discuss pickling peppers, she does discuss the basic method of pickling any kind of vegetable. I wanted a pickling primer, and lo and behold, that’s exactly what Ziedrich provides. The book starts with a chapter called, “The Pickler’s Primer,” which gives the history of pickling. Um, have I mentioned my complete fascination with these kind of historical factoids? If I haven’t then let it be said, I love a historical component to just about everything. The true story of X is always the best. One of my favorite shows on the new Cooking Channel is Mo Rocca’s Food(ography). I watch every episode spellbound. (Okay, so it’s not hard to be spellbound by Mo.) I digress… back to The Joy of Pickling! Ziedrich gives you the breakdown of jars and vinegars and different delectables from artichokes to zucchinis and everything between. Even pickled eggs! Which I am gaming to try. I once had pickled quail eggs from a small artisan shop in Mesilla, New Mexico and have dreamed of those little poppers ever since. So that’s the reading I bring to today’s party.
Now, for the first time at our Thursday Tea Party, I’m going to discuss a tea I did not care for as a beverage. I preference this by saying that I despise negative nancies. I was raised that if you haven’t anything nice to say, do your best to shut your mouth… or at least, shut your mouth in public. If you must vent, as we all must do to keep sane, then keep your opinions locked up in your own home. I’ve seen this maxim be very effective in just about every situation. Yes, even tea. It may seem irrational, but I’d hate to think I might offend someone who genuinely cherishes this brew. So to you, lovely friends, my apologies. Tea sipping is such a subjective business. (Not unlike books.)
A new “gourmet” market recently opened up in El Paso called Spec’s. So rarely does anything gourmet arrive on our border doorstep that it’s been a big deal about town. So hubs and I took a little trip out there—to walk the store and see what nummies we could find that were previously on our list of items to mule back from Virginia. I, of course, went straight for the tea section where I found a whole wall of Twinings varieties. Our local grocery store carries a handful of these but not the breath of selection I found at Spec’s. I like a dark tea. Y’all know that. So immediately my eyes were drawn to the red box with FIVE tea leaves of strength called Lapsang Souchong. Twinings designates tea flavor strength by pictorial leaves, and the most I’ve ever seen is four on my Irish Breakfast. So, in that moment, I thought, Oh, that’s going to be a tea as dark and rich as coffee. I shall give it a try! I didn’t read the description, which I now understand was my undoing. As soon as I unwrapped the plastic and opened the box at home, I knew… the smell alone repelled me, but I pressed on: boiled the water, dropped the tea bag, and brewed according to direction. After all, everything deserves at least one try, maybe even two. But I tell you, folks, I could not even bring myself to drink more than a sip. It was like sucking on a stick left to smolder in a campfire: burnt bitter, malty but acidic. I put the box in a plastic baggy to keep the smell contained and scolded myself for not reading the description:
“Lapsang Souchong tea comes from China’s Fujian Province and Taiwan. The unique flavor of Lapsang Souchong is produced by laying the leaves out on bamboo trays and allowing smoke from pinewood to permeate through them. Twinings Lapsang Souchong is an adventurous tea with a unique smoke flavor and a dark rich color. Drink with or without milk.”
Indeed, too adventurous for this chica. Then suddenly, I had a light bulb idea. What if I used it as a marinade? I’ve used green teas in fish recipes, so it just went to reason that I could use this similarly. In a flash, I dumped that cup of tea into a dish with some pounded chicken breasts, black pepper, onion powder, chopped garlic, soy sauce, a dash of Worcestershire, and, of course, a chopped Hatch chile. I let it all marry up together for a couple hours then baked it off in the oven. What do you know—FRIENDS! It was better than smoking outside on the griller. I was impressed. My husband was too. So I’m happy to report that I found a sensational side to Lapsang Souchong, and while I won’t be drinking it again, I will be cooking with it.
Sarah’s Sipping Summary:
I’m really reaching for a reading-tea correlation here. The best I can come up with is that I love my roasted Hatch chiles and those have a black charred smoke to them. I wonder if I took fresh peppers and brewed them in Lapsang Souchong, would they gain a smoky flavor without ever seeing a fire? I further wonder if I used Lapsang Souchong as the water component to my pickling would it result in a smoked pickled pepper? Now doesn’t that sound delicious! The tea, while initially distasteful, has certainly opened my mind to some future kitchen experimentations.