I took this assignment—”make up a recipe using dried chili peppers”—with one thing in mind: I’d finally have an excuse to teach myself about dried peppers. It seemed a perfect plan, because whenever I’m in Asian and Latin grocery stores, I admire their massive sacks of dried chilis and wonder what the hell they’re for. There’s so many. They’re so pretty. And I want to buy them. But I can’t because they’re too, too many and I don’t know what to do with them. What if I tried them and hated them? I’d be stuck with hundreds of peppers I hate! Which, in all honesty, doesn’t sound that dire now that I’m putting it into words. Just imagine it’s a big deal, because when I’m standing in the store, it seems like one to me.
So Marx Foods offered to send me a sampler of several different kinds of chili peppers in totally reasonable quantities and I couldn’t help but think I’d emerge from the process a better person, the new learned me, after the experiments are done and the Internet has taught me all it knows about chili peppers. I pictured myself dancing up and down the aisles of Super H Mart with my newfound dried chili pepper prowess, expertly tossing bag upon bag of beautiful deep red peppers into my shopping cart. Do you remember that part in A Christmas Story where Ralphie imagines his teacher reading his theme, and she flounces around in a dreamy stupor, writing “A+++++++++++++” across the chalkboard? That was kind of how my dried-pepper-buying fantasy went. That was me. Flouncing. But with peppers.
So I said yes.
I did loads of Internet research on dried peppers, and I applied the sum of my knowledge to a handful of habaneros and puya peppers. “A good way to rehydrate peppers,” said the Internet, “is to place them in a bowl of warm water and wait. But if you really want them to be spectacularly rehydrated, so that your neighbors will come over and say, ‘My, what is that heavenly scent? Are you rehydrating peppers?’ then you should slice the dried peppers and roast them first, and then rehydrate them in a bowl. This is better for some reason. It probably makes them taste hotter or something.”
I’m paraphrasing. But that was basically what the Internet said.
Confident that I’d found the fussiest (and therefore surely the best) technique on the Internet for turning dry peppers into wetter peppers, I sliced the peppers, took out the seeds, arranged them very tidily on a sheet of foil, stuck them under the broiler, and set the oven on fire.
We used to play The Sims, and sometimes when you play The Sims, your Sims try to cook a dish that’s ahead of their culinary skill level (usually if, for instance, a Level Four cook starts making some fancy waffles and then wanders off to shower or complain about the furniture, and your Level Nothing cook tries to jump in and take over without ever having heard of a waffle). More often than not, the power of your Sim’s inexperience will set the entire range aflame. And that’s why, when you build a Sim a house, you always place the smoke detector directly above the stove.
Our smoke detector is in the hallway, which is slightly less convenient when you need to fan it with a potholder because a kitchen appliance has caught, and indeed is still on, fire.
Never again will I question the relevance or realism of The Sims.
So I told the Internet to go lick itself and opted for a common sense approach: Rather than attempting the ultimate fanciest most flammable method I could find, I rehydrated the peppers the sensible way, chopped them up, and made them into a beautiful marinade for some pork shoulder “ribs.” (I have serious doubts about whether pigs have ribs in their shoulders, but now that I’ve sworn off Internet research, I have no idea how to find out for sure. I guess I could…ask my local butcher? Does anyone have his email address?)
To accompany my “ribs,” I put together a quietly glamorous savory French toast using a stale loaf of French bread, some eggs, and a few complementary seasonings, including one more dried chili pepper, crushed. I think if I did have an absurdly large quantity of dried peppers from the international grocery, a lot of them would end up crushed. I keep crushed red pepper in the spice rack as it is, but a dried pepper freshly crushed seems to have more flavor. Plus it makes me feel like I’ve done something and cooked with whole ingredients, even though I’ve actually just dipped a piece of bread in some egg and fried it in a pan. Level Four, here I come.
I might be done with sweet French toast after this, by the way, although I always liked it before. It’s just no match, in my opinion. This savory French toast tastes incredible, and it’s got an airy crispness on the outside and a creamy softness on the inside. Be careful not to overcook it, or you may lose the creaminess, and it will be only half as awesome. (Which is still very awesome.)
Recipe’s just below, but one last thing: This recipe, and the sampler of peppers that inspired it, are for a contest that Marx Foods is having. There is voting! Please vote for the recipe you think is best. And if you’re short on time, hey, you’ve already read this one! So you can vote for Knuckle Salad. Simple. Job done.
Sweet Garlic-Chili Roasted Pork with Savory French Toast
For the pork:
- 4 dried habanero peppers
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 2 lbs pork shoulder “ribs”
- 3 Tbsp duck (peach-apricot) sauce
For the French toast:
- Stale French bread
- 1 dried chili pepper
- 2 eggs
- Dried spices like garlic powder, onion powder, and parsley
- Salt and pepper
- Chili oil or other flavored olive oil
- Cut the stems off the peppers and slice them in half so you can remove the seeds. Place them in a bowl of warm water for about 30 minutes, or until they’re softer and slimier than when you put them in.
- Mince the garlic and rehydrated peppers and place them in a large bowl with the vinegar, olive oil, and soy sauce. Blend with a stick blender or a regular blender or a mortar and pestle; just mush it up as best you can. Add the ribs and marinate in the fridge for at least an hour and preferably overnight.
- Set the ribs out on the counter and encourage them to visualize room temperature. Preheat the oven to 325F. Put the ribs in a roasting pan and roast them for about 90 minutes, or until they’re cooked to 145F on the inside. You’ll need a thermometer for this, but if you don’t have one, there are a number of other ways to tell if pork is done. You probably have a favorite. Use that. (If you don’t have a favorite, comment and let me know! Maybe I’ll put together a post about all the different ways I know. There’s no space to include it in this post. Because the Internet is small.)
- When the pork is nearly done, prepare the French toast: Slice the bread diagonally into thick slices. Crush the pepper into smithereens. Beat the egg, and add the pepper and spices to the egg along with a dash of salt and pepper. Mix it up and soak each slice of bread for 8 minutes or less, depending on the level of staleness; fresh bread will need very little time and indeed will become soggy and brittle if soaked for too long, but if your bread is a crouton-zombie, it can take some time to do all its soaking.
- Remove the pork from the oven when it’s cooked and turn the oven off and the broiler on high. If any liquid has collected in the pan, get it out. Spread the duck sauce on the top of the ribs and place them back in the oven under the broiler for two minutes.
- While the pork is in the broiler, melt some butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat and fry the egg-soaked bread on both sides until it’s browned and sounds hollow when you tap it.
- Serve the pork and French toast with a drizzle of chili oil. Oh, and a vegetable, I guess, if you’re fancy.
Just once more before you go: Please vote for Knuckle Salad in the Marx Foods chili pepper recipe contest!