Peppers: To Char or to Bake?

Is there a ‘right’ or ‘better’ way to roast peppers?  Television and popular cooking instruction sites — especially the fast-and-easy-themed ones — frequently advise halving and cleaning out red peppers and baking/roasting them in a very hot [500-degree] oven until they look charred, wrinkled, and — perforce —  collapsed. They then proceed to bagging, cooling, peeling and slicing followed by flavoring.

One hopes that the authors of these sources are actually aware that the original and still common traditional method for roasting peppers involves direct flame applied to the peppers’ outer skins. Presumably, they opt for the oven method because it requires less attention and less cleaning up.

In fact, both methods have real culinary roles that go beyond considerations of convenience.

Many people have trouble digesting peppers, mostly due to the acid/bitter bite of the skins. Both methods make skin removal easy, and both sweeten by heating. [It is possible to use a peeler to remove the skins from raw peppers, but the result is good but different.]

Traditional flame charring on a grill or indoor stove burner [electric-included] allows the cook critical control over how much or how little the actual pepper flesh is cooked and thereby softened by the process. It can produce peppers that are freed of skin bitterness but not at all flaccid, with lively, toothsome texture, freshness, and flavor enhanced by the smoky/charred character added by the process.

With this method, cheaper green peppers are often actually preferable to more expensive, softer-fleshed, sweeter red, yellow, or other-tinted varieties.

Oven-baking produces a different result.  Even a very hot oven cannot apply flame-hot heat directly to the skin.  As a result, by the time by the time the skin gets charred enough to provide some flavor and to peel easily, the pepper is usually cooked throughout, completely soft-to-flaccid, and devoid of lively acidity.

However, peppers with these characteristics may be perfect for smooth soups, spreads, dips, certain sauces,and other pureed dishes in which their structure is intended to disappear. Also for for cooks who like sweeter ingredients.

But for pairings with garlic, ripe or salty cheeses, fresh herbs, and olives in traditional antipasti, savory salads, and sandwiches, the firmer-fleshed, livelier,charred roasted peppers are far preferable.

One very important adminition.  Whichever method you use, do not soak or run water over the peppers as or before you peel them.  It may be more convenient because it makes thorough char removal easier, but the peppers become water-logged and lose most of their desirable smoky/charred flavor.

Water-logging is also the price flavor and texture pay to convenience in water-packed canned or bottled peppers. I drain them thoroughly then dry then very well between multiple layers of towels. Depending on how over-softened they are, it may be bothersome  to peel them from the toweling. Depending on how I plan to use them and how non-flaccid they are, I may briefly re-char the firmer ones over a gas burner to bring them closer to the real thing.

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