Cheat Codes: How To Make Cracked Black Pepper
A couple months back, we went over the qualities and a general overview of the tiny, hard berries of the peppercorn bush, also known as just “pepper”. As a quick refresher, you can typically use it ground, cracked, or whole. Grinding it is easy enough since pretty much everyone owns a pepper mill of some sort, or you can buy it pre-ground. Using it whole may be pretty intense if you don’t like the flavor, but it’s a welcome addition to many dishes. What about cracking it though? Do you need some sort of fancy, complicated device, or have to spend big bucks to get something as fancy-sounding as “cracked black pepper”?!
Nah, you just need a glass or a bowl.
Freshly milled pepper is really great, and no one’s gonna argue that the boxes/shakers of already ground pepper is better. That’s because when pepper (like any fruit or pretty much any food) immediately starts to degrade as soon as its insides are exposed to air. No, you won’t end up with rotten pepper or anything if you leave it out, but simply put, when pepper is broken into smaller pieces, it releases its essential oils and flavors. As more time goes on since they’re exposed, they evaporate or break down, and so does the flavor. So actually pepper mills are pretty useful gadgets, even the comically oversized ones they use at pretentious Italian restaurants which are effectively the size of a small baseball bat.
Sometimes, though, a recipe calls for cracked peppercorns, instead of milled ones. This might seem like a trivial difference, but actually there’s a really noticeable flavor and aroma in freshly cracked pepper that just isn’t the same as ground pepper (even if you set it to the “coarse” setting). Cracked black pepper adds a decent amount of kick, and even a fruity zing to dishes when you throw it in towards the end, or even melts into a nice subtle, dark flavor when added in the beginning. It’s incredibly simple to do, so it’s worth the effort. Here’s a quick step-by-step rundown.
- Start by placing your needed peppercorns into a plastic bag, as seen above. Leave the top of the bag open just a little bit, to let air escape.
- Select something solid and sturdy, with a totally flat bottom. This could be a glass, a bowl, a skillet, a meat mallet, a jar, or even a bottle.
- With a pressing motion, not a slamming or smashing one, use your object to press downwards into the peppercorns, allowing your leverage to crush them open.
- Work the peppers only a few at a time, since it’s difficult to do more than a few at once. As the peppercorns break apart, move onto different ones in the bag, taking care to not rip it open. Once they’re all broken apart, you’re finished!
Like I said, this can probably be done in a matter of seconds. Unless you’re doing mass amounts of cracked pepper (which you really shouldn’t, as per our discussion about flavor oils breaking down), it shouldn’t take you more than like 30 seconds to make a batch of this stuff.
As far as the best tool for crushing them? Personally I like using drinking glasses since the glass itself is usually hard enough to break the peppercorns, and most of them time they have flat, featureless bottoms. As mentioned, basically anything flat will do. That said, I would not recommend using your meat mallet to “hit” the pepper apart, like you would smack a piece of meat in tenderizing. Rather, if you use your hammer, just press it down into the ‘corns, like any other tool.
- When using anything glass to crack your pepper, be very careful to use equal pressure on all parts of the object, since pressing too hard could risk you breaking the glass and cutting yourself.
- As mentioned, as tempting as it is to hit the peppercorns like you’re smashing a bunch of rocks apart, do not smack them with your object. This might get the job done, but it’ll also rip your bag open, making a mess.
- If you’d like to use something reusable in place of a plastic bag, you can also sandwich the peppercorns between two flexible cutting mats, to achieve the same effect but without the waste!