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"depth of flavor" and stuffed bell peppers

stuffed peppersOne of the biggest cliche lines in any cooking show or competition is 'depth of flavor.' Depth of flavor refers to the layers of flavor within a dish. Using various techniques: toasting or blooming spices, fresh vs dried herbs, adding flavorings at the beginning or end of cooking, reduction, roasting and caramelizing ingredients, seasoning, et al, a chef can manipulate the flavor of a dish. The technique is absolutely true - if overused as a measure of a truly great dish on television.

I re-learned this recently when I used leftovers from several other dishes to prepare a simple dish of stuffed peppers. My leftovers were a tomato sauce used the night before in Ciopinno - and a korean broth I'd used in ramen for lunches during the week. (homemade ramen is a WHOLE other post/story, idea) So when I set out to make my stuffing for the peppers I used the broth to cook the bazmati rice and I added the leftover cioppino sauce to hamburger along with a single diced habanero pepper. 

My favorite broth for ramen is Doenjang Jjigae or Korean Fermented-Bean-Paste Broth. 

  • 2 1/2 cups (600ml) rice-rinsing water or water (see note)
  • 10-15 dried anchovies, heads and entrails removed
  • 1 piece dashima (also sold as kombu, which is the Japanese name)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste), such as Togul

In a medium saucepan, combine rice-rinsing water (or water) with anchovies and dashima and bring to a low simmer. Cover the saucepan halfway with a lid and maintain low simmer for 15 minutes. Taste an anchovy; if it still has a noticeable amount of flavor left in it, continue simmering until most of the flavor has been cooked out. Strain, discarding solids. Then - whisk in the doenjang. It should dissolve easily in the broth creating a miso soup like consistency. 

for the Cioppino tomato sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 large shallots, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in juice, fire roasted if you can find them
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 5 cups seafood stock (or chicken stock if you make this sauce only for this recipe)
  • 1 bay leaf

Heat the oil in a very large pot over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, shallots, and salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and 3/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and saute 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Add tomatoes with their juices, wine, fish stock and bay leaf. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the flavors blend, about 30 minutes.

for my stuffed peppers recipe - I cooked bazmati rice according to directions in the Doenjang broth. It comes out very hydrated - and with that distinctive umami flavor from the anchovies. I cooked a 1/2 pound of hamburger - seasoning with salt and pepper - then added a cup and a half of the Cioppino tomato sauce to the hamburger mixture - and then also the rice.

I prefer stuffed peppers that are still crunchy versus completely soft - so I parboil the peppers for three minutes each - then remove them from the hot water and submerge in a water bath to keep them from continuing to soften.

I then prepare them in a baking dish - and stuff them almost full with the hamburger rice, mixture. I top the pepper with several tablespoons of the tomato sauce - and then top each pepper with feta cheese.

I then bake the peppers for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. They are PIPING hot when they come out - so I usually give them five, ten minutes on the counter before serving. 

To say that the depth of flavor on this dish was off the charts - is an understatement. I did not think how nicely all these flavors would combine.  I have been eating a bowl of the leftover hamburger stuffing the last couple of days for lunch on it's own. 

It's great to have a traditional cooking lesson reflected so clearly in one recipe. Now - would you go to all the trouble of making the seperate broth and sauce everytime? maybe not - but it shows that that little extra bit of effort - truly pays off in spectacular ways.

 

Happy Cooking! 

 

The photo used on this post is not my finished dish. While delicious - none of my photos of this preparation turned out post-worthy. this is stock photography - very close to looking like ours did with a better lighting coordinator and a less hungry husband on set.

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