Woodberry Kitchen committed to sustainability
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Generally thought to have landed in the Caribbean via Africa — after the Portuguese brought it there centuries before — fish pepper made its way to Maryland and was used throughout the 19th century as a replacement for much more expensive black pepper.
“The pepper itself has a more intense heat than the jalapeño, but not as intense as a habanero,” Gjerde said. “It has less of a vegetal quality than a jalapeño, but not quite the tropical fruit flavor of a habanero.”
Gjerde acquired and began experimenting with the peppers last year, and then encouraged local farmers to grow them.
“They really exceeded our expectations,” he said. “We ended up with more than 3,000 pounds coming through the door over the summer.”
He ground most of that batch with salt into a pepper mash and is now fermenting them for three to four months in 30-gallon wooden barrels, capped with ash and rock salt. Afterward, he’ll pass them through a food mill, add vinegar and bottle them. He expects to have more than 400 gallons of fish pepper sauce when he’s done.
Gjerde also smoked and dried some of the peppers and uses them in place of chile powder in the restaurant. Some of the pepper mash also was ground into the sauerkraut the restaurant is working on.
“It’s kind of a Chesapeake kimchi flavor profile that we’ve stumbled across,” he said.
Gjerde added that a drop of the chile sauce on an oyster “takes you straight back 150 years. Those two things together are an incredible taste of the Chesapeake culture that we’re at the risk of losing.”