Roasted peppers are worth the work

Roasted red pepper in a sandwich image
Roasted red peppers add substance and exciting taste to a simple sandwich with cream cheese, zucchini slices and shredded Swiss cheese.

Warning! This is not one of my simple tips. Making roasted peppers takes time. It’s fiddly. It’s also worth it. I’ve tried bottled roasted red pepper, and while I don’t know exactly how they make them, I taste a chemical undertone every time. The version you can buy at an olive bar in an upscale supermarket is often great, but very, very costly.

Once in a while, when I find a really good price on red pepper, I will buy a few and commit the time to roasting and freezing a supply. (You can do any thick-fleshed pepper in this way.) The process is actually not too bad if you are in the kitchen making a meal, or perhaps cleaning up. The roasting process is not hard, nor does it take a lot of attention if you are in the kitchen. Note: You should stay in the kitchen when you are roasting peppers, as you are essentially setting up the peppers so you can burn the skin as efficiently as possible.

Real food red peppers roasting image
Red peppers washed and placed close to the elements.

Start by setting up your oven racks to get the peppers as close to the broiler as possible without touching. I used the toaster oven for this batch, but four was the limit I could do in the small oven.

Note: The truly best place to roast peppers is on a barbeque grill. I don’t often use that choice unless I am also grilling other food because you do need to stand right by the grill.

Most instructions call for lining your pan with foil. You can skip that step if you wash or soak your pan immediately after removing the peppers. The peppers will release liquid, and that liquid is surprisingly sticky. Aside: Using disposable cooking aids is an individual judgement call. I prefer to deal with any baked on spots, rather than using foil. Perhaps that is to make up for my rather frequent use of plastic wrap. We each choose where to conserve. If it will make you roast peppers more often when you have no clean up, use the foil.

Real food roasted peppers
Peppers blistered and blackened to release the skin.

Broil or grill the peppers at as high a temperature as you can generate. Within a few minutes, the top of the pepper will start to blister and burn. Once one area is mostly black, using tongs, rotate the peppers to expose an uncooked area. Repeat until most of each pepper is blackened and blistered. The goal is really just to peel the peppers, which can often be accomplished with only a few black spots. I prefer to really blister the peppers, which adds a smoky overtone I love.

Once the peppers are blackened, place them in a paper bag for about 10 minutes to steam and further release the skin. I have used a plastic bag when paper is not available and it works just as well. However, you will want to wait a minute or two after removing the peppers from the oven to let then cool a bit so the plastic does not melt.

Real food roasted red peppers
Peeling the skin from roasted red pepper. Remove the pieces that will come off in large sheets, then go back and catch the smaller pieces.

Take the peppers from the bag, and lift the skin from the pepper. If you have trouble releasing the skin, you have probably not blistered the pepper well enough. You can return the pepper to the oven, or decide to leave a few bits of skin behind.

To take the seeds from the pepper, cut or pull the top of the pepper to release. I prefer to work with the pepper split vertically to remove seeds. I am sure there are many ways to do this, but I hold the pepper over the sink, with a trickle of water running. Run your fingers over the pepper half, stripping seeds. Rinse your hand often, as the pepper is sticky, and the seeds are often reluctant to depart. Note: As tempting as it is, especially if you are peeling many peppers, do not rinse the pepper under the running water. It takes the seeds off in a flash, but that sticky stuff you are rinsing away is the wonderful flavor of a roasted pepper.

Real food recipe for roasted red pepper
Roasted red pepper split into strips and ready to be frozen so they can be used as required.

Now, prepare for storage. The damp, sweet pepper is not a long-lasting food. Air is the enemy. To store in the fridge, place in a storage bag, but release as much air as possible before sealing.

You can also place the peppers in a jar, and cover with a good oil. The oil blocks any air getting to the peppers, and prevents spoilage.

Finally, and my choice except for what I can use in a day or two, is to freeze. I freeze the roasted peppers in a single layer, just as I do for meat. See the article Freezing Meat with Options. Once the peppers are frozen, I place them in a freezer bag, and can use them individually. You can slice or chop a frozen, roasted pepper right out of the freezer with no problem.

I roasted four peppers this time, which gives me enough for a month or more. During harvest season, when I can do my own peppers, or those I buy at the farmer’s market, I will fill my large pan, and do a dozen at a time.

Roasted peppers add an incredible touch to pasta, sandwiches, crackers. Try a simple cracker (like these) with cream cheese and a strip of roasted red pepper. There isn’t much to it, but the flavor is memorable. With good ingredients, like roasted pepper, simple food combinations are best. It is a big commitment in time and fiddly work, but I feel rich when I have a good stock of roasted peppers.

If you are just starting on the path to using real ingredients in your cooking, this may not be the best place to start. However, when you hit that special where peppers are half the price they usually are, or find some at the farmer’s market that are so beautiful, you buy more than you can possibly eat, it may be time to treat yourself to some roasted peppers.

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