Hello, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, now in our brand-new digs! Yeah, look at this shit, huh? New Year, New Us, am I right? I have no idea what that phrase implies. Like, is the idea that we’re going to hatch into a new, terrifying form, ready to decimate mankind? Unlikely. That ritual didn’t work last year, so I’m not holding my breath for this one. But our (sorry, royal “we”) coming dominance of humanity is not what I came here today to talk about. What I came to discuss is a dish tied to celebration in my house for the last several years: jalapeño poppers.
Now, if you’ve only had jalapeño poppers at your local TGIF’s, you may be unfamiliar with the kind my family makes. Also, you are presumably roughly 15, living in the Midwest, and in a town with a Footloose-esque disdain for Red Robin.
To be fair, their mascot is pretty clearly an Agent of The Devil.
In my family, there’s no breading. Pshaw. Such a thing is but a waste of precious caloric intake. Our jalapeño (and before you ask, yes, I am going to put the tilde* in on each one. * - If you don’t know what a tilde is, first off, thanks for continuing to read the blog, Midwestern Teen! Also, it’s the squiggly thing over the N. )
~ <- That guy
BUT, before I get into what my family does contain their mighty peppers in, I ask: what is a Kitchen Catastrophe post without an unusually thorough inspection of the roots of cuisine? Boring, says I! SO, where do jalapeño poppers come from?
Where did you come from, where did you go?
Where did you come from, Popper-Eye Joe?
HAHA, Sí, FUI YO!
Translation: "Haha, yes, it was me!"
For those more committed to food etymology: they’re a modified form of the chile relleno (“stuffed chile”). You know, that fried pepper stuffed with cheese you order? Yeah, turns out the “Smaller fried pepper stuffed with cheese” is related to that. Who knew?
Now, if you want ACTUAL POINTS OF DATA…There’s surprisingly few. Chile Relleno is a centuries old dish that does use jalapeños sometimes. The term “jalapeño popper” was trademarked in 1993 by Anchor Food Products, a company who was bought 15 years ago, and therefore has had its history scrubbed out so that McCain Brothers can flourish. Interestingly, the term “popper” was trademarked earlier by a DIFFERENT company, but was referring to Popcorn. The term “Armadillo Egg”, a Texas nick-name for the treat, particularly when wrapped in bacon, was appearing on menus as far back as 1972. Anecdotal evidence says fried cheese-filled jalapeños were being served in Michigan as early as the 60’s.
So, really, the best anwer we have is: “Mexico. And then probably Texas.”
Once You Pop, The Fun is… interrupted by Trademark Lawyers
I’m going to break my bad habit of this post and most of my writing of including introductory phrases or words at the start of paragraphs in order to more organically transition between thoughts while openly citing my action of doing so, thus highlighting the crutch, because if I have to flinch every time I realize I’m doing it again, I want someone else to do so as well.
JALAPEÑO POPPERS have been an important part of my family’s celebrations since “I don’t know, I went off to college and came back to find my parents had new hobbies, liked different shows, and celebrated things differently, and all I want is a world where things make sense again.” So, likely sometime around 2012. (That “so” doesn’t count, we’re mid paragraph, damn it.) My mother says she’s basically adapting a jalapeño popper recipe from Ree Drummond, but the process is quite simple. So simple my brother and I were put on a chain gang this Christmas season to get some made for the family Christmas dinner.
The first step is easy. First, you take jalapeños, and you scoop them clean. Most of a pepper’s capsaicin (aka “The chemical that makes it spicy”) are found in the seeds and the inner membranes, so by clearing those out, you’re minimizing the chance someone ends up crying because of the food. You’re at a family Christmas party, so crying is practically inevitable, but food-based crying can be avoided.
The blue gloves are to prevent later, equally tear-inducing mistakes. Also, they're nifty if you need to cosplay in a hurry. Blue gloves, dark suit, and you're "Those Blue Sun guys from Firefly."
As you may have noticed, this is a dish of “Peppers stuffed with cheese, breaded, and fried.” So you may suspect we’re a quarter of the way done. You’re not as right as you could hope. See, my family goes the “armadillo egg” route, and wraps them in bacon. Secondly, we roast them, rather than frying. That actually has very little to do with the number of steps required, I just wanted to feel nutritionally superior for a little while. But yes, next comes the cheese stuffing. Most recipes use cream cheese for the filling, and there’s a simple reason for this: most people are babies.
Cream Cheese, and indeed all dairy products, is a top-rate way to kill capsaicin’s heat. Alcohol helps, but not as much as bars would like you to think: capsaicin IS soluble in alcohol…which means you’d use RUBBING alcohol to clean it OFF of things. A shot of liquor would help, but beer’s going to be mostly comparable to water. And WORSE than soda, since sugar water is basically the second best option after milk. But, yeah, putting in the cream cheese is like a spicy-airbag, intended to make the pepper more palatable. As such, we cut the cream cheese (which sounds like the description of a truly monstrous bit of flatulence) with cheddar cheese and green onions. Wait, sorry, my mother is telling me that’s normal for the recipe…Ah. We DOUBLE the normal amount of cheddar cheese, that’s the difference.
True culinary innovation.
After that, we wrap the peppers in bacon, and pin the strips to the peppers with broken toothpicks. I’ll warn you now: when the peppers are cooked and cooled, be sure to hunt down the toothpicks and pull them out. You may miss one or two, but better you get the majority. Literally with this very batch, I was almost stabbed by a missed pick. Only the ridiculous size of my mouth saved me.
Some of you are looking at this picture and asking "Jon, how did you miss it?" Which is much like going to the zoo and saying "But I can see THESE tigers just fine."
You complete the ensemble with a last bit of flair: brush the outside with barbecue sauce. This is what truly elevates the poppers in terms of flavor balance. We already have smoke and salt from the bacon. Heat from the pepper, creaminess from the stuffing. The barbecue sauce will bring sweetness, yes, but it will also reinforce the smoke, as well as bring bitterness, as some of it is bound to lightly char while the peppers roast. As for what kind of barbecue sauce, really anything with even a hint of sweetness will be fine.
Then comes the roasting itself, and at the end:
There’s some follow-up steps, that the recipe will detail (cooling, plucking, etc), but these are a great way to produce some pumpin’ party snacks, and fun way to heat up this chilly season. And if January isn’t the time to try new things, I don’t know when is.
NEXT TIME: JON’S BEEN LANGUISHING WITH A COLD FOR A WEEK, SO HE DOESN’T KNOW. HE’S ALMOST CERTAINLY JUST GOING TO MAKE UP SOMETHING ON SUNDAY BASED ON A PASSING COMMENT OR A NEW MAGAZINE HE ENCOUNTERS. OR MAYBE HE’LL RAMBLE ABOUT SPICES AND CANDIES HE BOUGHT FROM WORLD MARKET. TUNE IN TO FIND OUT.
O’Guin Armadillo Eggs. (AKA Drummond BBQ Jalapeño poppers with extra Cheese)
18-24 jalapeno peppers (My family prefers the smaller ones, so we aim for 24)
1 package cream cheese (8 oz)
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 green onion, sliced
18-24 slices of bacon, cut into halves
Toothpicks, broken in half.
1. Slice jalapeños in half through the stem, and remove the seeds and inner membranes, leaving the outer perimeter intact. Preheat your over to 350, and lay aluminum foil into the base of several baking sheets.
2. Mix the filling ingredients thoroughly, and divide between the 36-48 jalapeño halves.
3. Wrap each half in a half of bacon, pinning the ends using the halves of toothpick. (Lotta halves bouncing around.)
4. Place the wrapped halves onto your prepared baking sheets. Brush the tops with the barbecue sauce of your choosing, just enough to coat the top.
5. Bake for 1-1.5 hours, swapping the sheets position at the 40 minute mark, looking for the bacon to have crisped, and the tops to be darkened.
6. Remove poppers from the baking sheets and place on another surface to cool. After 10-15 minutes, begin removing toothpicks from the poppers.
7. Serve warm, or store in the fridge/freezer, and reheat before your next function.