May is Grilling Month at Tasting Table.
Just about every supermarket stocks jars of roasted bell peppers, and though some are quite good (try Spanish piquillos), even the best are stored in a preserving brine solution that renders them more bland and waterlogged than their freshly roasted counterparts. The good news is that it's easy to roast bell peppers at home, and there are several different ways to do so.
Whether you use the grill, stove, oven or broiler, roasting completely transforms peppers, enhancing their natural sweetness and adding smokiness. The texture goes from crisp and crunchy to soft and velvety, says Katie Button, executive chef of Asheville's Nightbell and Cúrate, where she roasts peppers for Spanish escalivada. Roasting also loosens the skin and produces a delicious syrupy juice, notes chef and cookbook author Deborah Madison, who tosses peppers—and their juices—with pasta or white beans.
The Technique: On the Grill
Bell peppers are a late summer crop, and if you're grilling, there's no reason why you can't roast peppers simultaneously. Get the grill as hot as possible, Button says, and keep it covered. Lightly brush peppers with olive oil and turn them occasionally. Button thinks charcoal develops more smokiness, but you can also use a gas grill, Madison says.
The Technique: On the Stove
Roasting over an open flame creates more char and maximizes peppers' smoky, sweet flavor, explains chef Kristen Essig, who uses a gas range to roast peppers for rouille, a classic French sauce she serves with fries at New Orleans's Meauxbar. It's also fast and doesn't require turning on the oven. Roast peppers directly in a high flame, Essig says, and use tongs to turn them and char every side. Roasting times vary, but you'll know peppers are done when they're slightly collapsed and completely black, Roberto Santibañez, owner of New York's Fonda restaurants, says.
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The Technique: In the Oven (or Broiler)
It doesn't develop quite the flavor of stovetop roasting, but Button thinks oven roasting is easier. She recommends lightly brushing peppers with olive oil to help them blister. Roast near the top of a 400-to-450-degree oven, Madison says, and use a rimmed baking sheet to catch any juices. Check peppers occasionally and turn them to promote even cooking. Again, timing varies; look for soft flesh and black skin. You can also use the broiler, which is slightly faster but otherwise very similar. Madison recommends broiling about five inches from the heat and cutting peppers in half, so there's no flipping required.
Steaming and Skinning the Peppers
Steaming roasted peppers makes it easier to remove their skin, but it also allows the flesh to soften a bit more, Santibañez explains. Place your just-roasted peppers in a bowl and seal it with plastic wrap, Button advises. As soon as they're cool enough to handle, remove the skin. Button uses her fingers, though Madison recommends a paper towel, plus a paring knife for stubborn pieces. You can also rub in kosher salt, which simultaneously seasons the peppers, Santibañez says. Remove the seeds and ribs with a knife or your fingers and be sure to keep any juices and use them in whatever you're making. Purists, including Santibañez, warn against rinsing, insisting it washes away flavor, but Essig thinks a quick dip in cold water is harmless and helps remove any lingering black flecks.
Roasting in Advance
If cooled first, roasted peppers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for three to five days, Essig says. She also recommends storing them in a glass jar with olive oil. Make sure the jar and any utensils are extremely clean, and once the peppers are gone, use the pepper-infused oil to marinate steak or make vinaigrette.
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