There's a smoky sweet aroma hanging in the air around here lately. I've been experimenting with smoking peppers. Here's a look at the latest batch getting started. There's NTR's (Not Topepo Rosso) in the front left, Tarahumara Chile Colorado in the back half, and various half peppers left after I did a bit of comparison tasting. I've only ever smoked whole peppers before and I was curious to see how half peppers would come out.
I'm using my new Big Green Egg (thank you Dave) to hot smoke the peppers. The BGE has a nice feature (optional unfortunately) that allows for indirect cooking. It's a bit difficult to make out in the photo, but the grill rack is sitting above a thick ceramic insert that deflects the direct heat of the hot coals burning below and yet allows for air circulation around the grill. Set a packet of wood chips and/or a piece or two of hard wood kindling on top of the hot coals and the grill becomes a smoker. It's not easy to replenish the supply of wood chips that supply the smoke so I tried a method that produces smoke for a longer period of time. Place a couple of handfuls of dry chips in a large square of heavy duty aluminum foil. Yes, dry chips, another advantage of this method is that the chips need not be soaked first.
Seal the chips securely into a packet.
Then poke about 6 small, very small holes, into the packet. The nearly airless environment inside the packet keeps the chips from burning up and producing a quick hit of smoke. The chips burn very slowly and produce a small steady supply of smoke for about an hour. I found that kindling size pieces of almond wood, about 1/2 to 1-inch thick and 10 to 12-inches long also burn slowly and produce smoke for about an hour. I've been using both of those in my experiments, one packet of chips and a couple pieces of kindling.
When the chips have finished producing smoke they've turned into charcoal.
It took a bit of fiddling around but I eventually figured out where to set the lower vent and
the upper vent
to maintain a temperature of about 250ºF (or as you can see in the built in temperature gauge, about 125ºC).
That seems to be the temperature necessary (at least in the BGE) to produce smoke, below that you're just slow cooking the peppers.
Here's a look at the peppers after about a half hour of slow cooking (not intentional, part of the learning process).
Here they are after an hour of smoking. At this point I had removed the rack and the ceramic plate, added another packet of apple wood chips and another piece of almond wood kindling, replaced the plate and rack, then I flipped all the whole peppers. The plate beneath gets pretty hot, about 350ºF, so the peppers need to be flipped to prevent them from scorching on one side (another lesson learned). I'm not sure why but the pepper halves didn't need to be flipped, perhaps because they were all fairly thick fleshed. These smoked for another hour but I couldn't get a photograph of them when they were done because it was too dark outside by then.
The peppers are still soft after a couple hours of smoking so I finish them in my dehydrator. That's when the house starts to fill with the aroma of sweet smoke, it's difficult to avoid. I put my dehydrator in a room with a vent fan and that kept the smoky aroma to a minimum, actually, it was rather pleasant.
|Smoked and dried Tarahumara Chile Colorado|
You can see in the photo above how the Tarahumara Chile Colorados were very slightly scorched, it's not as bad as it looks, the peppers darken when they dry completely. The Tarahumara peppers are thinner fleshed than the NTR peppers which did not scorch. On the other hand, the NTR peppers took a long time to dry and I eventually cut some of them in half so they would finish drying much more quickly. The half peppers seemed to smoke just fine and they certainly dried in a timely manner.
|Tarahumara Chile Colorado|
For comparison, the photo above shows dried smoked peppers at the top (brown stems), plain dehydrated peppers on the bottom, and fresh peppers in the center.
I haven't actually tasted any of the smoked peppers yet, but I'm almost out of my latest batch of Merkén and I'm planning on using some the smoked NTR peppers in the next batch.