Saturday, January 30, 2010

Roasted Red Pepper Coulis

Bell peppers of all colors, as common as they are in North American cooking, I think are mistakenly considered to be one-note in terms of their flavor. You can roast or grill peppers, toss them raw in a salad, stuff them with meat or rice, or dunk them in dip, but they still taste like bell peppers: mildly flavored and a little bit sweet. Green peppers have a slightly stronger flavor, but otherwise, the colors all taste more or less the same. They have the reputation of being useful, but not really anything special. However, I don’t believe that poor bell peppers deserve this reputation. When prepared correctly, bell peppers can be something very special indeed. The case where this is most true is in a well-crafted red pepper coulis.
We made a roasted red pepper coulis similar to the one I’m about to give you the recipe for in one of my culinary classes. I think I had had something similar before, but this was the first time I realized what was actually taking place in the process: we started with a number of ingredients and then we combined them in a way that changed them into something that tasted different from any of those individual items we started with.
This coulis does not taste very much like roasted red peppers. Certainly, a hint of their flavor remains, but this process takes their simple, somewhat boring taste, and turns them into a rich, flavorful sauce. It actually tastes a little like a tomato sauce, though not a slice of tomato is added.
This is one of the many things I love about cooking: how you can start with something, and then turn it into something else, shattering your expectations. I like to be surprised when I try something new. I like to take ingredients and make them something they weren’t before. Of course, the process is really only gratifying when I am able to make something that is not only surprising, but also delicious, and that certainly is the case with this coulis.
There are endless possibilities for how you could use this coulis. It would be delicious on pasta, chicken, or pork. I think it could also be good as a topping for some vegetables, maybe broccoli. Last night, I served it with a piece of seared cod, topped with a fresh mixture of cherry tomatoes, basil, lemon juice, and balsamic vinegar. It was kind of classy, and very delicious. And have I mentioned color yet? This coulis has a fabulous, orangey-red color! It looks striking on a white plate and topped with a white piece of fish. To start the plate, I put a few spoons of coulis on the center of the plate.
Then, I tilted the plate slightly to spread the sauce into a larger oval, just a bit bigger than the piece of fish I was going to top it with.
I placed the fish on the coulis.
Finally, I topped it with my cherry tomato mixture.
I also sprinkled some basil chiffonade on the plate, but in hindsight, I think it actually looked better without. Still, not too shabby, is it?
Roasted Red Pepper Coulis
Makes about 1 ½ cups.
As usual, I encourage you to play around with this recipe. I used jarred roasted red peppers, but by all means, buy fresh peppers and roast them yourself. I’m sure the results will be superior. Also, I used vegetable stock, but chicken stock would probably also be very good. In terms of seasoning, I added the salt, pepper, and sugar to taste, so these measurements are only guidelines. You have to taste and add as you see fit. A restaurant would probably strain this sauce at the end to give it a more refined texture. Personally, I like it to have a little more “bulk” to it so I don’t bother straining. You might want to try it out though! Finally, I recommend that you do not omit the final step of finishing the coulis with butter! I think the butter makes the sauce.

2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ a medium onion, chopped
12 oz. jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped (or, 3 fresh red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped)
2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
¼ cup white wine
1 ¾ cups vegetable stock
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice (or more)
1 tsp. sugar (or more)
½ tsp. salt (or more)
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper (or more)
2 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until onion begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook for 2 minutes more. Add the red bell peppers and stir.

Increase the heat to medium-high and deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom. Continue to simmer until the wine has evaporated to about one quarter of its original volume. Add the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and continue to cook until the stock has evaporated to about half its original volume.

Stir in the lemon juice, sugar, salt, pepper, and the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Pour the contents of the pan into a blender and blend until the coulis is completely smooth. Return the coulis to the pan and swirl in the butter, stirring until it has melted. Taste and add more lemon juice, sugar, salt, or pepper as necessary. If necessary, rewarm gently right before serving.

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