Growing Peppers

Growing Peppers

Part of Ep. 1403 Hot Plants

University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor of Horticulturist Jim Nienhuis shares his favorite peppers for Wisconsin and his passion for breeding them. He also reveals some pepper roasting secrets.

Premiere date: Aug 30, 2006

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley:
I'm in the kitchen of Whole Foods in Madison. And I'm here to change culinary history. My partner in crime is Professor of Horticulture Jim Nienhuis. Jim, I understand you are the pepper king.

Jim Nienhuis:
I don't know if I'm the pepper king but I do have a love of peppers. One of the things we want to do with peppers, the best culinary tradition, is to make chili relleno. That's what I'm going to show you how to do today.

The first step is that we had a bit of a problem here in Wisconsin. The people in New Mexico and Arizona this is a tremendous tradition, an historical tradition. They grow either the poblano or the ancho pepper. This is the Poblano, it has a dark green color. But the problem with the poblano and the ancho is that they tend to be very late in Wisconsin. Also, they have this irritating aspect of setting the fruit on the lateral branches rather than on the main stem.

Shelley:
I bet they fall over.

Jim:
In fact, to produce them commercially you have to actually tie them up. Too much work.

Shelley:
So what is this?

Jim:
What I did was I developed the new pepper. This is called Number 93. I tried to combine the best characteristics of the poblano and the ancho. I also bred it for earliness. They set fruit on the main stem. It's called 93, because I have several different varieties. You're going to choose one. And if you find that 93 makes a delicious chili relleno we may crown it the "Wisconsin Wroasta" So that will be our new variety. Here's how we make a chili relleno.

Shelley:
Let's start with the roasting.

Jim:
The first thing we have to do is we have to roast our pepper.

Shelley:
Talk me through that. I've heard a lot of confusing information.

Jim:
You can do this several ways. You can take a pepper. This is an electric, but if you had a gas stove you can actually do it on your stove. But you have to oil your pepper. The important part is that you have to have an open flame. What you're trying to do is create a blackened cuticle.

Shelley:
You're trying to blacken all this.

Jim:
You're trying to blacken it so it looks like this. You can also do it on your grill.

Shelley:
Over the flame though.

Jim:
Men need another excuse to use their grill. But the problem on a grill is, if you keep it on the grill for too long it's just going to turn into green mush. Don't cook the pepper to mush, but singe off that cuticle. You have to apply oil, so it will generate an open flame.

Shelley:
Some of us have very special roasting machines.

Jim:
I have available a pepper roaster which does all of these tasks for about 10 pounds. So, you can roast your peppers and you blacken the cuticle. When they're blackened, they look something like this. They have this blackened cuticle.

Shelley:
You have to "sweat" them?

Jim:
Oh, yes, I forgot a step! Put them either into a plastic or paper bag. This is called sweating the pepper. You allow the temperature of the pepper to cool down. Once it's sweated you can pick off that blackened cuticle. I often do this under the faucet. Yeah, you just wash them right off. The blackened cuticle comes right off.

Shelley:
And that's the part you want off.

Jim:
Because, you know, that's burnt. You don't want burnt, you want caramelized sugars.

Shelley:
Okay, so then what do you do with it?

Jim:
Then, you take your pepper. This is the spiritual aspect of chili relleno. At the top of the pepper, you make the sign of the cross and then you open up your pepper. Then with a nice knife, you cut out the placenta and the seeds.

Shelley:
And why?

Jim:
Because the seeds are irritating. They're kind of crunchy. Why do you want to eat the seeds, right? The other thing, by opening up that little spiritual cross you now provide an opportunity.

Shelley:
A pocket!

Jim:
For Mozzarella cheese to be inserted into the chili pepper. I use Mozzarella, you can use Jack or any cheese that you like.

Shelley:
Something that melts.

Jim:
Some people use meat, but I don't. And here's the secret. This took me years to learn. You actually drench the pepper in some flour. The flour can be spiced, as well. This allows the egg batter to adhere to the chili pepper.

Shelley:
These are eggs that are separated.

Jim:
Separate egg whites and egg yolks. Beat your egg whites until they are stiff. The egg yolks, you can add some spices, salt and pepper to.

Shelley:
Then, you add them back.

Jim:
It's important to beat the egg whites, then fold. It's a delicate motion. This is not warfare. This is folding. Once you've folded the egg whites yolks then you take your chili pepper...

Shelley:
Fluff it in there.

Jim:
It's been drenched. Back up, it's been drenched.

Shelley:
It's hot oil.

Jim:
Then you put this into a frying pan.

Shelley:
Oh beautiful.

Jim:
Fry it until it's golden brown. The egg mixture is going to fluff up and it will create a light, delectable dish. For those of you who don't enjoy cooking in oil, I've also tried this in a separate recipe, in which I've drenched it in the egg batter, and I've actually put it into Phyllo dough and baked it. You cook it for such a short period of time. Also, if you have a fluffy egg mixture it's not going to absorb that much oil.

Shelley:
Here's the test.

Jim:
Will this be crowned the "Wisconsin Wroasta"?

Shelley:
You've seen history here in the making. This is fantastic.

Jim:
Can this be a new culinary tradition for the state of Wisconsin? Can we change the eating habits of Wisconsin?

Shelley:
I think we just did, Jim.

Jim:
There's one aspect I want to point out. If you like to go to football games, let me point this out. There me a couple doubting Thomases out there who might say, “I'm not going to change the way I eat.” But look at this, if you open up the chili pepper.

Shelley:
With that golden crust and that green pepper. Green and gold.

Jim:
The team colors of the Wisconsin Green Bay Packers. So this is absolutely the appropriate dish for the state of Wisconsin.

Shelley:
Jim, we've made history. Thank you.

Jim:
Thank you.

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