Field Notes

Master Class: Pepper Jelly

For some, there’s something a little bit shameful about a jar of pepper jelly. The condiment saw its apex around the time that Don Draper had his first extramarital affair; and since that time, pepper jelly has been trotted out less and less frequently, a neon relic adorning a block of cream cheese next to some Ritz crackers.

All of this, in our opinion, is hugely unfair. At its best, pepper jelly is a complex and magical thing, sweet and vinegary with a left hook of heat. Yes, it goes with cream cheese (and its gussied up cousins, goat cheese and brie), but that’s hardly making use of all its charms. Pepper jelly is brilliant way to introduce heat to a cocktail, since the vinegar and sugar also play nice with booze; it’s also delicious as a glaze for chicken wings, or a slathering for cornbread.

Luckily, certain chefs and restaurants are rescuing the maligned spread by putting it on high end charcuterie plates and using it to glaze their meat and seafood. At MoPho in New Orleans, a housemade pepper jelly gives flavor to braised clams. Vivian Howard of Kinston, North Carolina layers pepper jelly in her fancy take on a grilled cheese. At the Optimist in Atlanta, pepper jelly gives definition to brussels sprouts that accompany a cornmeal-crusted fried fish. And for the mad geniuses at Humphrey Slocombe in San Francisco, pepper jelly is a perfectly acceptable ingredient to add to corn ice cream.

What is your favorite way to use pepper jelly? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram; we’ll be sharing our favorite recipe later this week!

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The Chili Pepper Field Guide is a growing knowledge base exploring the diverse flavors of chili peppers from around the world. We welcome your thoughts and content suggestions via email or social media using hashtag #chililab