In fragrance as in fashion, there are waves of trends not only in terms of the style of a composition but also for certain ingredients. Pink pepper (often referred to as baies rose) is one such example. Its bright, resinous fragrance with an effervescent fruity sweetness lends itself to various arrangements, from the citrusy-woody elegance of Ormonde Jayne Isfahan (Isfarkand) to the animalic roses of The Different Company Rose Poivrée, among others. While I was familiar with pink pepper oil, I have never cooked with the peppercorns themselves. Unable to resist the temptation of something shiny and pink, I purchased a small packet and started to experiment. …
Biting into one of these berries is very exciting. The thin, smooth skin hides a tiny berry with a pronounced sweet note reminiscent of sour cherries. Then, a rich piney flavor with a characteristic peppery edge begins to fill the mouth. It also has a juniper like fragrance, but it is quite subtle. It is never overwhelming, however, and unlike black pepper, pink pepper lacks the assertive searing sensation. Although it shares an important flavor constituent, piperine, with black pepper, pink pepper (schinus terebinthifoilius) is not related to black pepper (piper nigrum.) Pink peppercorns are the fruits of the Brazilian pepper tree, native to South America. They are generally sold freeze dried, which preserves their vibrant color beautifully. Experimenting with this lovely spice is easy—just add it to any dish where you would ordinary use black pepper. Although relatively mild, pink pepper has enough flavor to stand up to gamey meats, fish and poultry. A teaspoon added to chocolate cake batter results in something quite special.
One of my favorite ways to use pink pepper is with shellfish. Mussels in tomato sauce make for an effortless recipe: sauté minced garlic in oil, add chopped tomatoes and red wine, parsley and then mussels (cleaned). The dish is finished with a liberal sprinkling of black pepper. I substituted pink pepper and basil leaves with great results. It can be served over pasta, although I prefer it with bruschetta, grilled country bread rubbed with garlic. The velvety tomato sauce with a hint of the fruity, resinous pink pepper, the soft mussels and the hot crispy bread–all of these components make for truly a seductive combination.
Mussels in Tomato and Pink Pepper Sauce
Serves 2 as a one dish meal; 4 if part of a multi-course dinner
1 sack of fresh mussels (about 4 lb)
1-2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups of chopped tomatoes (canned or very ripe fresh ones)*
cup of red wine
1-1½ teaspoon of pink pepper, crushed to powder**
salt to taste
¼ cup of torn basil leaves
Gently scrub mussels, removing the stringy beards and discard those that won’t close or those that are unusually heavy. Place the cleaned mussels in a large bowl and cover with a wet paper towel. Unless you are about to cook them right away, it is a good idea to refrigerate the shellfish.
Heat olive oil in a large lidded pan on medium heat. Add garlic and stir just till it releases its fragrance. Do not allow it to turn golden brown. Add tomatoes and stir. Cook for about 5-7 minutes till tomato flavor concentrates slightly. Add wine, salt to taste and stir again. Taste again and adjust seasonings. Add more salt, if needed. If your tomatoes are too tart, you can add ½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon of sugar.
Add mussels to the pan and stir to cover them with sauce. Cover the pan and shake it from time to time. Overcooking mussels is easy, therefore as soon as the shells open, remove the pan from the heat. Sprinkle with pink pepper and basil and stir to distribute the seasonings evenly. Serve immediately with bruschetta to soak up the delicious juices.
Slice crusty wheat bread, sprinkle with good quality extra virgin olive oil and run under broiler or place on the grill until it turns golden. Rub with garlic on both sides.
Two spice sources I highly recommend given my numerous stellar experiences with them are World Spice Merchants and Penzey’s Spice. If you have other favorites, please let me know. In general, any Indian grocery with a high turnover is likely to be a great source for spices.
Photos of pink pepper and mussels © Bois de Jasmin.