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Seven Tips for Cooking with Pepper

1. Itís All in the Name: For the best flavor and aroma, always buy premium peppercorns from named regions: Tellicherry, Malabar, Sarawak, etc.   

2. Grind Them Yourself: Only buy whole peppercorns and grind them yourself.  When pepper is freshly ground, volatile oils are released, creating intense flavor and aroma; even a day later, the taste and fragrance will have dissipated.  (For advice on selecting a pepper mill, click here.)

3. Cool, Dark Storage: Store peppercorns, like other spices, away from heat and light in tightly sealed tins or glass jars.  A cool, dark cabinet or pantry is the right environment.  Properly stored peppercorns will remain fresh for a year.

4. Whole Peppercorns:  Whole peppercorns impart a dusky, mildly peppery flavor to soups and stews.  Use them in pates and terrines, or combine them with cinnamon, cardamom and other spices to make chai, Indian spiced tea.  For a light, citrusy flavor, dry roast black peppercorns in a skillet over medium heat until they release their fragrance.

4. Cracked Peppercorns: Use cracked peppercorns when a bold, assertive taste is desired, in dishes such as steak au poivre, Singapore black pepper crab, or grilled pork tenderloin.

To crack peppercorns, place them in a ziplock bag and lightly crush with a rolling pin or the side of a cleaver.  Peppercorns can also be cracked using a mortar and pestle, but unless the mortar is deep and roughly textured, peppercorns may bounce out and roll all over the kitchen.

5. Coarsely Ground Pepper: Use coarsely ground pepper to add heat to grilled meats, chicken and fish; to season pastas, salad dressings and vegetables; to intensify the sweetness of fruit such as watermelon and mangos.  Tiny nuggets of pepper burst with flavor when sprinkled over smoked salmon.  Blend coarsely ground black pepper with coriander, fennel and cumin seeds to make a warming sauce for Black Pepper Chicken.

6. The Other Grinds:  Medium and finely ground pepper will disperse the taste of pepper more widely in any dish.  It is the way to use pepper when a delicate, diffuse flavor is desired, particularly when making spice cookies and other baked goods.

7. Buy a Good Pepper Mill:  Invest in a high quality mill that is easy to fill, feels good in the hand, and grinds pepper the way you like it.  In the SpiceLines test kitchen, we have four pepper mills: two with black peppercorns, and one each for white and green peppercorns.  For more on selecting the right pepper mill, click here.