TASTE
11/02/2011 05:22 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2012

Pepper

Gail Simmons shows you how to use foods you already have in your pantry to make easy, delicious recipes. In this episode of the Pantry Project, Gail shows viewers how peppercorns -- the dried fruit of the pepper plant -- add tremendous seasoning, flavor and spice to any number of savory recipes.

Peppercorns vary in color and flavor: Black peppercorns are picked when green and sun-dried until black, according to the Prentice Hall Dictionary of Culinary Arts. They add an aggressive spiciness to dishes. White peppercorns are ripened on the vine, then fermented before their outer reddish brown skin is removed. These peppercorns have a slightly milder flavor and work well in fish and seafood recipes. Green peppercorns are unripened peppercorns that have been brined. They have a somewhat sour flavor and are often used in Steak au Poivre. Pink peppercorns are the dried berry of a South American rose plant, according to the Prentice Hall Dictionary of Culinary Arts. And Sichuan peppercorns, which come from the same-named province in China, are the berry of an ash tree. This pepper is harder to come by than other types of pepper and gives a tingly, almost numbing sensation in the mouth. Above all, what's most important with all sorts of peppercorns is that they're freshly ground -- they quickly lose flavor once ground. So Gail recommends buying whole peppercorns and investing in a good quality pepper grinder and grinding your pepper just before use.

In this video Gail shows viewers three recipes she's created to highlight the flavor of peppercorns, and then demonstrates how to make her Wok-Fried Black Pepper Shrimp recipe (which contains coarsely ground black pepper). To make this simple recipe, Gail first grinds a full teaspoon of black pepper, and butterflies her previously washed and de-veined shrimp. (Making a deep cut in the back of the shrimp will them to open up more easily when cooked.) They key to a great stir fry is a really hot pan, which enables quick cooking without burning. Gail preheats her wok, and drizzles canola oil, making sure the pan is thoroughly coated. (Gail uses canola oil instead of olive oil, for example, because canola oil has a higher smoking point, and therefore won't burn as quickly. It also has a neutral flavor that allows the other flavors in the dish to shine through.) She then adds the shrimp to the wok, followed by black pepper, fresh ginger, fresh garlic and soy sauce (instead of salt). Once the shrimp are cooked through, she transfers them to a separate bowl. After adding some more oil to the wok, Gail cooks green peppers, red peppers, sliced onions and scallions until they are lightly browned but still crunchy, and adds the shrimp back in. Finally, Gail serves the simple stir fry with a garnish of fresh scallions.

Recipes:
Roasted Pears with Black Pepper and Honey, Creamy Goat Cheese and Wild Arugula
Pan Roasted Double-Cut Pork Chops with Peppercorn Crust
Wok-Fried Black Pepper Shrimp