Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hotter'n Hell hot pepper relish

Hotter'n Hell Hot Pepper Relish

So, there's this guy up by my former office -- "Oink Johnson" -- and he sets up a BBQ trailer on the roadside every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Aside from the awesome pulled pork that he sells, he offers his home-smoked thick-cut bacon, and what he calls "Oink Johnson's Kill 'Em Dead Hot Pepper Relish."

I'm not one for hyperbole, but I must say right here that his pulled pork is among the best I've had -- and I've had pulled pork all over the US.  My deep, dark business-travel secret is that I hunt down pulled pork and BBQ wherever I'm traveling.  In the southern US, there are many places to be found, but here in the northeastern US, the "pickin's is slim"!  So when I found Oink, I thanked the Great BBQ God in the sky for his providence.

Oink's hot pepper relish made a big hit at the smart candle-lit suppers for which I'm so famous.  (Anyone who gets that reference gets extra credit.)  I serve it with cream cheese and crackers.  The best.

I've probably bought eight or ten jars of the stuff from Oink and used them myself or given them to my buddy Dewey who loves this stuff as much as I do.

A hot pepper relish like this should be easy to make.  At his BBQ trailer, Oink had an ingredient list: peppers, salt, sugar, vinegar.  Can't get simpler than that.  He put it up in 8-ounce jars.  Heck, why couldn't I make this??

The relish is soupy.  It is not a jam or jelly.  It's sweet, vinegary, and profoundly hot, but not cripplingly so -- just enough to enjoy.  There's clearly no pectin, confirmed by Oink's ingredient list.  I did a bit of snooping around on the Internet, and came up with a couple recipes, none as simple as Oink's, but they did give me an idea of proportions.

I gave it a whack, and I think I succeeded.  I bought the peppers, and started in.

6 cups chopped peppers:  about 1/2 hot and 1/2 sweet. 
    (Clearly, this ratio determines which level of hell you decide to descend to)
1/4 cup salt
2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups white vinegar

Chop the peppers in your food processor to a fine mince.  I used about a pound of long, green, hot peppers and a handful of jalapenos, and the balance were red and reddish-green bell peppers.  My ratio was about half-and-half  hot to sweet.  I'd bet that if you made this in late summer with ripe, red peppers it would be awesome, but I wasn't about to pay $3.99 a pound for red bell peppers in December!  In fact, I bought one-dollar grab-bag peppers at Iovine's Produce in Reading Terminal Market.  They were just fine!

Measure out six cups into a mixing bowl.  Add salt.  Cover (I used a damp dish towel to keep the hot-pepper fumes at bay) and let sit an hour or so to draw out moisture. 

Drain the pepper/salt mixture and measure out six cups into a 6-quart stainless pot.  Add the sugar. 

Cook over medium heat until the sugar is fully dissolved.  Add vinegar.  Bring to a simmer, and let cook until it thickens a bit, about 20 minutes or so.  It will not become jammy (there's not nearly enough sugar to get to that point), but it will appear "cooked."

Sterilize eight 8-ounce jars in the dishwasher, and ladle the hot, cooked pepper relish into the jars.*  Seal.  Clean out your pot.  Fill halfway with hot water, and bring to a boil.  Arrange the jars in the pot, cover, bring the water back to a boil, and process for 5 minutes.  Remove with jar tongs.**

The seals will pop as they cool.  When they've cooled to room temperature, refrigerate. 

Dang, I gotta tell you, this stuff is good!!

*  Invest in a canning funnel.  Really.  Best investment you'll make. 
**  Invest in a jar tongs.  Really.  See above.

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