Field Notes

Pepper of the Week: Fish Pepper

Welcome to The Chili Lab Pepper of the Week Breakdown. This week, we go beyond the heat...and into the waters with fish pepper.

Fish PeppersImage via Jocelyn Dale

Okay, the only thing fishy about this pepper is what you serve it with. In fact, this pepper doesn't taste like it was plucked out of the water at all. So, why is the fish pepper...the fish pepper? Let's take a look!

What is a Fish Pepper?

The fish pepper rose to prominence in the Caribbean. Contrary to what we call it, the fish pepper earned its name not for having an aquatic flavor. Rather, fish peppers garnered their moniker in thanks to the foods they were often paired with. Popular in oyster bars and crab houses, these peppers became the company they kept, earning them their fishy name.

History of the Fish Pepper

While the fish pepper gained notoriety in North American islands, these colorful fruits slowly made its way to the mainland. Unfortunately, this was due to the fish pepper's popularity with slaves.

Africans brought fish pepper over to the Americas. They enjoyed the kick this chili pepper gave other foods. In the Chesapeake Bay area, many Africans would puree the pepper. From there, they would spread the creamy concoction over their shellfish. 

Thankfully, slavery became abolished. An unexpected result saw the decline of fish pepper. However, one African folk artist, Horace Pippin, kept the seeds of fish peppers alive since the 1940s.

Over time, Pippin passed the seeds onto future generations. Due to Mr. Pippin's green thumb, the fish pepper is now seeing a resurgence in the 21st century among foodies of all cultures!

How to Use Fish Pepper?

Although not confirmed, many say the fish pepper is a cross between the serrano pepper and cayenne pepper. Its flavor profile can be described as:

  • Crunchy
  • Fresh
  • Bitter

When fish peppers are picked at different points in their life cycle, they bring on different levels of heat. At green, they exhibit low levels of fire. As fish peppers mature into red pods, they bring on a serious kick.

Fish Pepper Scoville

Due to such a variant degree of heat, the Scoville level of fish pepper can range anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 SHU.

While you can puree fish pepper or add it to a sauce, the best way to enjoy fish pepper is through pickling. That way you can toss these flavorful peppers into any salad or on top of a burger for a sweet-and-sour experience. 

How to Pickle Fish Peppers

Pickling is a fun, easy, cost-effective, and healthy way to get your fish pepper on! What is so great about pickling is that you can pick and choose what you want to throw into your batch. It's an ever-evolving process. However, if you don't know where to start, let us help you.

Pickled Fresh Peppers

"Pickled
Image via Coconut & Lime
Ingredients:
  • 3 cups whole ripe fish peppers 
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 2 1/2 tablespoon pickling salt

To learn more, read the recipe @ Coconut & Lime

Fresh Pepper Piccalilli


Ingredients: 

  • 5 green tomatoes
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 onion
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3 fish peppers
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds (toasted and smashed)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • salt to taste

Read more by checking out This Must Be The Taste.

Get Social with Fish Pepper

Feel like a fish pepper aficionado now? Well, join us on Instagram for even more fish pepper fun. Also, be sure to check in for next week's #POW...PRIK CHI FAA