Black pepper is about as ubiquitous as any spice can possibly be. It would probably be hard to find a kitchen without it. Sometimes is preground (yuck) and doesn’t really have much except enough heat to make you sneeze. It’s something many probably pick up in the grocery store without thinking about it. But, black pepper is black pepper is black pepper is not true. It is often added as kind of an afterthought amongst other spices and herbs.
I’ve always been picky about my black pepper–my favorite is from Penzeys. I’ve been mail-ordering it from there for ages–and have kept on even with the local store since I’ve got my established list of herbs and spices there.
If you peruse the list of black peppers from Penzeys, you’ll find quite a selection: India Tellicherry, India Malabar (both excellent) and then there’s the Special Extra Bold Indian Black Peppercorns. True more expensive than either of the others, but worth every penny more.
However, as much as I liked black pepper (over eggs, in mashed potatoes, with strawberries, balsamic, and black pepper), I didn’t really appreciate black pepper as the main seasoning until I made fårikål. The seasoning is black pepper! Lots of whole black peppercorns that cook right with the cabbage and the lamb. And should get eaten rather than picked out; after the long cooking they still have some tooth but are soft enough to eat easily and the flavor is just amazing.
Black pepper is worth exploring as something other than an add-on to other herbs and spices. It should always be bought whole rather than ground or cracked. While you can spend a small fortune of a pepper mill, you can also get a reasonably inexpensive one. It will open a whole new world of flavor. The highly recommended mill from America’s Test Kitchen was from Cole and Mason, and surprisingly, very reasonably priced.
Another tasty dish featuring lots of black pepper that you should make once you have some really good black whole peppercorns to go with you pepper mill is cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper pasta). But do try it with good ripe strawberries, too. Or on a lusciously ripe muskmelon or watermelon.
A son gôut!