How to roast peppers - the unsung heroes of your produce bin
Roasted peppers are one of the most versatile ingredients around. Use them on a salad or pizza, puree them into soup or sauces, toss them in tacos or sandwiches, or lightly dress them and serve them as a side. Their sweet, slightly smoky flavor and tender texture are welcome additions to so many dishes.
Red bell peppers are what most of us envision when we think of roasted peppers, but you can use pretty much any other kind of pepper, such as poblano, jalapeño and Anaheim. Just keep in mind that smaller peppers will char very quickly and may be harder to handle and peel.
The grocery store offers plenty of jarred options. But making them at home is ideal when you need just one or two of a single type, or when you need a bunch of different varieties. Plus, even if you don't plan on using them right away, roasting peppers is a great way to use what needs to be cleared out of your produce bin or whatever bumper crop your plants have produced.
Here's a cheat sheet to help get you roasting.
- Char them first. You have a couple of options for blackening the skins, which softens the peppers, lends a charred flavor and facilitates the removal of the skin. If you have a gas oven, you can do this directly over the open flame on your burners. Pay close attention, using tongs to turn the peppers until they are blackened all over. You can use the same technique on a grill, too. The broiler is also a possibility. Lay the peppers on a baking sheet on a rack a few inches from the heating element and, again, turn to char all sides. Another method: America's Test Kitchen suggests cutting the tops and bottoms off the bell peppers and then making one cut in the main body of the pepper so that you have one long strip you can lay flat on the sheet along with the sliced tops and bottoms. This eliminates the need to turn the peppers, and also lets you seed and stem them before, rather than after, cooking.
- Then steam. Steaming the peppers helps loosen the skins for easy peeling. A lot of instructions call for placing the peppers in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, or even a paper or plastic bag. For the least amount of waste, I prefer to put the peppers in a bowl and cover it with a plate. Even a glass pie dish will do the trick. Let the peppers steam, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Peel and seed. At this point, the skins should be fairly loose from the flesh of the pepper. Use your fingers to pull them off, getting rid of the stem as well. Cut or tear open the pepper to remove the ribs and seeds. It can be a bit messy, so have a towel to wipe off your hands, or run them under the sink. Don't rinse the peppers themselves, or else you will be washing away flavor, too. You can wear food-safe gloves, if you prefer, which come in handy if you're working with spicy peppers.
- Use or store. Depending on what you're using them for, at this point you can cut the peppers however you like - diced, in strips, or even just halved. Store them in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a few days. For short-term storage (also no more than a few days), you can submerge the peppers in olive oil and refrigerate. Don't be tempted to add garlic or onion, since they can be contaminated with botulism spores that love growing in oil. If you would like to save your summer bounty for a later date, go for the freezer. You can freeze individual packets in bags or plastic wrap or layered in a container separated by wax or parchment paper. Or freeze strips or pieces on a lined baking sheet, and once they're frozen solid, pack into a bag. If you like to can, you could of course preserve them in jars.