The problem with black pepper

"It is universally agreed that black pepper boiled in a soup or stock or stew for longer than ten minutes turns bitter and loses its aromatic and pungent properties. Yet few people correct and enchance old recipes by leaving out pepper until the end."
- Jeffrey Steingarten in Red Wine and Old Roosters as excerpted in Best Food Writing 2002

I must have missed the memo. I really didn't know regular, trusty old black pepper could turn stews and stock bitter.

In the beef stews I make all winter, I tend to mix the beef cubes in a flour coating with some salt and pepper. I brown the beef and then add wine and slowly stew the whole thing. Is the pepper added in this step adding off flavors?

This topic seems like just the sort of thing that Cook's Illustrated should know about, but I did a search on their paid site and didn't find anything.

Does anyone else have a tip about using black pepper turning food bitter? Is Jeffrey Steingarten about the universal agreement on this topic?


Anonymous Mr. S said...

i had heard this too, but i'm skeptical. i have gotten in the habit of putting whole black pappercorns into stock, rather than grinding the pepper, with the idea that it won't turn bitter if it's left whole - which is probably more superstition than fact. it makes it easier to strain, too, so there's something practical about it. i do wait until tomato sauces are finished to put the pepper in, but i can't imagine making a roast or a stew without salt & peppering the meat first.

now that i think about it, leaving the peppercorns whole in stock may be a habit i picked up from my best friend's mom when she taught me how to make chicken adobo, which has a wonderful peppery (and decidedly non-bitter) flavor from all of the whole peppercorns that are simmered in the sauce/broth.

8:54 PM  
Anonymous cdnkitchen said...

My advice is to leave black pepper out until just before you consume the dish. At that point use freshly-ground, fresh whole peppercorns. Whether its soup or steak, add it last. Great article!


7:35 PM  

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