Tag Archives: black pepper

The History of Pepper

It is one of the most innocuous of spices. We see it every day, on nearly every table, and very few ever give two thoughts about the stuff. For many, it’s the first real spice that we get to eat on a regular basis. No – it’s not salt (which is, technically speaking, a mineral and not a spice). Rather, it’s black pepper, the Bud Abbot to salt’s Lou Costello.

Black pepper has been around for nearly 4000 years, fortuitously not so coincidentally from the Black Pepper plant that is found native to the Western Ghats of Kerala State, India, where it still occurs wild in the mountains. The Black Pepper plant is also called Piper nigrum. Most black pepper comes from India, but it is also exported from Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil.

It’s also one of the spices that had launched the spice trade, along with ginger (which I’ll get to next). It was quite popular in Rome, as Pliny the Elder had remarked. It has remained a near necessity in Europe ever since. They were also rare (as were many spices), and for a time was used in lieu of currency.

The Worshipful Company of Grocers, a Livery Company (aka Trade Guild) in London actually got its start as the Guild of Pepperers waaaay back in 1180. Their purpose, as with most guilds, was to maintaining standards for the purity of the spice and for the setting of certain weights and measures for distributing the spice. They became so good at their task with pepper that they became the Spice Guild, and then later evolved into the Grocer’s Guild.

Black Pepper (as well as other spices) was one of the primary reasons for the search for a sea route to India. Portugal made inroads, and actually controlled the pepper trade for a while, but countries with larger, more efficient navies, as well as smuggling, forced them out rather quickly. And once technology evolved to such a point where pepper could be imported on a regular basis, prices for the spice quickly fell and pepper’s popularity further increased as it became available to markets that previously could not afford it.

How important it Black Pepper to the spice trade? Consider this. Today, it seems rather innocuous as it sits there on your table. But it makes up 20% of today’s world spice trade. So, yeah. Black Pepper is a big deal.

I’ll be focusing on Black Pepper recipes when time and opportunity allows. Expect a few recipes and hopefully a few more tips and stories surrounding the spice.

For the record…Last Night’s Shrimp

For the record…marinating shrimp in lemon, frying them up in butter and rum, and then topping them with a helthy dose of ground pepper is a pretty damn good thing to do to shrimp.

…for the record.

Pepper Crusted Rib-eye with Syrah Reduction

Peppercorn Crusted Rib-eye with Syrah Reduction

Okay, let’s get down to a recipe shall we? It’s been a while.

Here’s a prime exampled of the “Less is more” theory in application. If you make this correctly (and I have no doubts that you will), what you will end up with is a juicy cut of rib-eye. You will think it’s juicy because of the “just-right” amount of sauce that you will ladle over the cut of meat before you serve. Any extra sauce can easily be soaked up with bread. Then you will pat your stomach and exclaim “Damn that was good”.

The sauce? It compliments rather than overwhelms. A mantra one should learn. Wait… I sense a new “Kate’s Law” coming on.

(“Kate’s Law” is a registered trademark of the Monsanto Corporation and is used here thoroughly without permission and with only a hint of satire).

Enough silliness…onto the recipe:

  • 1 Tablespoon ground pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon ground mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 lbs boneless rib eye steak
  • Olive oil
  • 1 shallot minced
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup Syrah
  • 3/4 cup chicken or beef stock (If you buy broth boxes, steer away from the beef)
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • salt (to taste)
  • Bleu cheese (crumbled) (for garnish and taste)
  • walnuts (for garnish and texture)
  • Chives, cut (also, for garnish)

Heat a frying pan over high heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine pepper, cumin, mustard seed, and salt. Coat your rib eye lightly with olive oil and dust with the spices mixture. Place the steaks in the heated frying pan and reduce the temperature to medium-high heat. Cook for 4 minutes, allowing the steaks to sear. Flip the steaks and cook for another 3 minutes to get a nice, medium-rare piece of meat. Place all steaks on a platter and cover with aluminum foil in order to lessen heat loss.

In the same skillet, add the shallots and tomato paste and saute for two minutes over the medium heat. After the two minutes, increase heat to medium high and stir in the wine. Allow to reduce for about 15-20 seconds before adding the stock and balsamic. Cook the suace and reduce by about a third. Add the butter and allow to slightly thicken. Salt to taste if you feel you need to.

Plate the steak and spoon some sauce over the top. Garnish with the cheese, walnuts and chives and serve!

Serves 4