Ingredient of the week : Kampot Pepper
Kampot is a gorgeous little city in the far south of Cambodia, built on the Prek Kampot (the estuarine Kampot River) and a couple of kilometres from the Gulf of Thailand. It’s a lesser-known attraction in the grand scheme of Cambodian tourism, but even if it wasn’t worth a visit for the caves, waterfalls, glorious golden beaches or mountain views, it is certainly worth a visit for its incredible pepper.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the French colonists in the area began exporting pepper from Kampot’s extensive plantations and it very quickly became the most sought-after pepper in the world. No self-respecting gourmand in France would’ve settled for anything less, we hear. The poor souls fairly quickly had to go without, however, when the Khmer Rouge destroyed almost all production of the pepper and effectively wiped it off the gastronomic map. Farmers began replanting in the 1990s, but today’s production is still a tiny fraction of the 2,000+ tonnes harvested before the KR seized power.
So why is it so delicious, you ask? The climate and soils of Kampot province are, by some trick of serendipity, just damned perfect for pepper production. Kampot pepper is almost like regular pepper amplified by 1000%. It’s hotter, more aromatic, richer, muskier, more floral, more complex and simply more peppery than any other pepper you’ll ever have. The locals cook almost everything with it, including their famous pepper mud crab, and the recipe we are offering you today –which is a lot easier, but infinitely delicious. Give it a whirl!
Caramelized Peppered Chicken Wings (Sach moan kho ma-rit)
This is Cambodian country-comfort-food. Serves 2 very hungry people (or 3 folk who had a big lunch).
- 500g chicken wings, left whole
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 cup water
- 1 thumb-sized knob of ginger, peeled and thickly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup fish sauce
- 1 tbsp whole Kampot peppercorns
- Take a pot big enough to hold all ingredients, bring to medium heat, and add the water and sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until the caramel has turned deep brown.
- Pour in the cup of water (watch out for spitting!) and stir until all is combined.
- Add the garlic, ginger, fish sauce and chicken wings.
- Add water until the wings are just covered (if necessary), and simmer for at least 1 hour.
- When the liquid is reduced by half and concentrated, taste, and add sugar and/or fish sauce if necessary (it is a sweet/salty dish).
- Just before serving, crush the pepper in a mortar and pestle until ground to your desired consistency. If you don’t like biting on chunks of pepper, grind it finely, but it you like it rustic, leave it coarse!
- Stir in the pepper, and serve over steamed rice.
This dish is meant to be very peppery, but feel free to add more or less depending on your tastes. Kampot pepper is available in Australia but if you can’t get it, substitute a mix of very fresh white and black pepper.