Of all the produce found at the farmers market, possibly none has a more divisive "love it or hate it" reaction from cooks as green bell pepper. But why is that? And what other green peppers are fun to work into your ingredient list to create interesting new flavors? To answer these questions Managing Producer Sally Swift talked with Tucker Shaw, the Editor-in-Chief of Cook’s Country. Tucker also gave us the weeknight-friendly recipe for Arroz con Pollo that you can make with store-bought or Homemade Sazón seasoning.
Sally Swift: We have been spending this episode looking at chilies and peppers, and I have a question for you. Why do you think people have so many issues with green bell peppers?
Tucker Shaw: Oh yeah. It's true they do.
SS: Those poor things.
TS: I know right, they're just so cute. I think it's a little bit of overexposure; they're so ubiquitous and maybe not so interesting. There are so many peppers in the world that have something more exciting to offer. They can be a little bitter and people react to that. Sometimes they're a little bit watery.
SS: They're really watery.
TS: But they also have that really nice crunch and they're kind of refreshing. I guess they're neither here nor there for a lot of people, but they do inspire a lot of a strong feelings.
SS: There are also a lot of other green peppers out there. I'm wondering if you could walk us through a couple of varieties and talk about what you think are the best ways to use them. For instance, an Anaheim chile.
TS: An Anaheim is great. It’s got just a tiny measure more heat than a green pepper, which really is starting from zero. It gives you some mild vegetable flavors. They make a good substitution a New Mexico green chile if you bolster them with a hotter chili like a jalapeño.
SS: That's smart to pair them like that. These are the long thin ones?
TS: That's right. They're probably about three or four inches long, a little bit wrinkly, and come to a very sharp point at the end; they are very pale green.
SS: What about poblanos? Are poblanos something you can swap in and out for different chilies?
TS: A poblano will really change the character of your dish if it does call for a bell pepper because poblanos have quite a bit more heat. They do have a similar texture; they are fairly firm and will give you a little bit of that crunch. They're a much deeper color as well. So, if you're looking for your green bell pepper to bring you that kind of bright vibrant green color, a poblano will give you something much deeper. I would experiment a little bit.
SS: That's good to know. What about cubanelles?
TS: Oh, I love those!
SS: Explain what they look like because they do look a little different.
TS: They do look a little different and are not dissimilar from the way in Anaheim looks in the sense that they are long and slender, and they have that beautiful pale green color. They're a bit larger than an Anaheim. They may look a little bit shinier and have long wrinkles down the side of them and a sort of languorous form to them. They are often merchandised right next to the Anaheim, so you have to be careful and make sure that you are grabbing the pepper that's a little bit bigger, plumper, and just a little bit shinier. They're sweeter, less bitter, and might have a touch more fruitiness than a green pepper, but they're not going to stand out in any dish and take over. They provide a nice kind of vegetable backdrop or filter that your other ingredients will come through.
SS: Do you have a recipe that you love to use them in?
TS: Totally. We have a recipe for arroz con pollo that I am crazy for. Arroz con pollo is a common Latin dish. It’s basically chicken and rice, and there are many variations to this dish. Ours is built, like many of them are, on a sofrito, which is a flavor base of vegetables. In our case this includes cilantro, garlic, and onion – which are all very strong flavors – as well as some chopped cubanelle peppers. The pepper, being mild and faintly sweet, helps keep the other ingredients in check. It doesn't overwhelm them, it just keeps them a little bit contained.
SS: This is mommy food, all the way. How do you put this recipe together?
TS: It's total mommy food. It's total family food. Everybody's happy when you make this. And it's a one dish meal, which is even better.
Take your sofrito ingredients and put them in the food processor. You've got onion, garlic, cilantro, a little bit of cumin for some smoky spiciness, and the cubanelle pepper. Mince this very finely in your food processor. Take two tablespoons of that sofrito, stir it together with mayonnaise and lemon juice; that's going to be your finishing sauce for later. Stick that in the fridge while you're cooking the rest of the meal.
TS: Brown six chicken thighs in a Dutch oven for about seven to nine minutes on each side. This renders some fat from the skin and gets some browning going both on the chicken and in the bottom of the pan. You want to create a fond that you'll scrape up later into the rice for extra flavor. Once you par cook those, pull them out to a plate and give them a rest. Go back into that Dutch oven with a bit of chopped onion to soften, and then some medium grain rice to toast. We choose medium grain rice here because it gives you just the right sort of starchiness that you need for this dish. Add a little bit of sazón, which is a prefab spice mix that you find in the Latin American section of the grocery store or make it yourself at home.
SS: It has that bright yellow color, right?
TS: That's right. It includes ground annatto seed, which lends that beautiful vibrant almost orange-yellow color to the finished dish that you will recognize as soon as you see it.
You've got the rice going. You stir in some chicken stock and then the rest of the sofrito. Along with this, add some chopped olives and capers; these give your dish a bright brininess that will wake everything up at the very end. Bring this to a simmer and nestle the chicken thighs back in. Cover it up and slide it into the oven for about 20 minutes to finish. The reason we put it in the oven at this point is so that you don't risk scorching the bottom of your pot.
TS: When it emerges out of your oven and you pop the top off of that Dutch oven, you're going to be overwhelmed with this incredibly deep, savory and invigorating aroma that has so many notes in it your head will be spinning.
SS: And that beautiful color. It sounds just perfect.
TS: It's gorgeous. Scoop out some of the rice and stack a chicken thigh on top. And then you bring back that sauce that you made earlier with the reserved sofrito and drizzle that over the top to add a final note of super-fresh, bright vegetable flavors. It's so good! And when you're eating it you're not going to necessarily taste cubanelle pepper, but it's doing its work. It's rounding the edges of the other strong flavors in this sofrito to give them a slightly softer lens. It's like putting an Instagram filter over your sofrito to give it a quiet kind of finish to it.
SS: Tucker, you have proven green peppers have their place. Thank you very much.
TS: Thanks a lot, Sally.
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