Every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to find a combination of flavors that just works, a compound flavor that transcends its individual elements, one in which the dominant sensation on the palate becomes something new and distinct from any single component, a minor chord born of a Beatles-like marriage of flats and sharps. Many of the classics never tire, and I use and re-use them without apology: Lamb and rosemary; peas and mint; scallops and bacon. And then there are beer snacks, the holy grail of sports fans and wannabe man-cooks everywhere, the perfect balance of heat, salt, and icy bitter froth, a marriage to read about in the self-therapy section of an airport book nook.
On occasion, someone will serve me something so completely unexpected that it upends how I think about flavors, not because it’s so radical, but because it sounds radical and tastes natural: White chocolate and caviar, or salmon poached in licorice (both found at the Fat Duck), the French Laundry’s justly celebrated dish of tapioca with oysters and caviar, or just the odd and unexpected, like cheese and chocolate. But I have no aspirations of Michelin etoiles and my favorite flavor pairings are the ones that I stumble upon in the normal course of every day life and which I know, with absolute certainty, will sing on the palate before I even taste it. Such was my experience, while hunting and gathering at the Saturday market, when I heard Dan the Tomato Man of Soda Rock Farms talking up his Padron peppers to another shopper, and to whome he issued the following guarantee: “If you sit down and try these peppers with a cold beer, you’ll finish them off, or I’ll give you your money back.” It was a really big bag of peppers.
A light-bulb moment of clarity and conviction, so frustratingly rare (at least for me) and all the more profound for it: Prepare the peppers in the classic fashion by blistering them in a pan, then tossing them with a pungent, grassy olive oil (preferably from the Dry Creek Valley) and big pinch of fleur de sel (don’t be shy about the salt – I don’t want to hear about blood pressure, and the alcohol should compensate), and serve with a well-chilled Racer 5 from the Bear Republic Brewery: Padrons tend to have a mild heat and a fairly pronounced bitterness which would pair perfectly with the bitter hoppy-ness of the Racer 5, and the occasional spice-bomb – Padrons are often referred to as Russian Roulette peppers for their unpredictable bite – would provide a tantalizingly painful excuse for more beer. The key ingredients – peppers, olive oil, and beer (I insist on French salt…) – are all produced within a few miles of my house and, as with any beer snack worthy of its name, the dish would require virtually zero prep (merely rinse and dry the peppers whole and church-key the beer), one pan, and no additional ingredients.
I love salty nuts, but these Padrons are, hands-down, my new favorite beer snack.
Padron Peppers, and Not Much Else
You’ll finish the beer and the peppers, or your money back.[Post-script: I originally posted this over the summer on my old site, when the Padrons first came in, at least a month later than typical, due to our exceptionally cool weather and commensurately delayed growing season. Normally, they’d be long gone by November, but look around – I bought them a week or two ago, and considering the tomato crop that is still out there, the little green devils might still be on the stands.]