What The Hell Do I Do With These Frightening Ghost Peppers?

Welcome to the Feedbag, where all the dumb questions about food, drink, cooking, eating, and accidental finger removal you've been embarrassed to ask can finally receive the berating they goddamn deserve. Also: answers. Send all your even-vaguely-food-related questions to albertburneko@gmail.com with the subject "Feedbag." All of them.

Will:

A friendly barfly gave me a a couple dozen ghost peppers from his wife's garden. I'm not into tough-guy stunt eating, but I like reasonably spicy things and try not to waste free food or acts of kindness. Any way I can pickle these into submission? Like boil them in sugar and vinegar and chop them up into relish?

The trick with ghost peppers is to figure out a way to make use of them without reducing the upper three-quarters of yourself to a burbling pink froth pooled around your disembodied lower legs where they stand in their dorky, unfashionable shoes. (Your shoes are dorky and unfashionable, Will. I'm sorry.) Because, your ghost peppers can be made to add welcome piquant heat to your food if used properly, but they can also be used to sear a hole in spacetime through which the Old Gods will emerge from their eldritch prison in the chaos dimension, and that is just a bad deal all around, buddy.

This means finding a use for your peppers that maximizes your control over how much of their heat you add to any given portion of food. Relish might be OK for this, except that it's probably not realistic to think that you'll be able to achieve any meaningful diminishment of the ghost peppers' piquancy by cooking them. This means you'll have to choose between extracting and discarding the inner membrane—and thus losing out on nearly all the heat in the peppers, as well as all the use you might make of it—or including it, and taking the chance that an unsuspecting eater might take a bite of it and have his brain come boiling out of his ears and nostrils.

Make chili oil instead. Since it's a liquid, you can add as much or as little of it as you want to a dish—and, if you've made it well, extracting as much of the piquancy from the peppers as you possibly can, you won't need to add much more than a wee drop or two in order to get some serious heat going, even in a big pot of chili.

Chop your peppers into small pieces (if they're dried, grind them with a mortar and pestle), then cook them in some vegetable oil over very low heat for a while. Work in batches: cook some of the chopped chilis, then strain them out if they start to burn; retain the oil, and use it to cook some more of the chilis. Eventually, you'll have a fiery orange or red oil that is absolutely fucking terrifying to look at. Pour it into a sterilized glass bottle or jar, seal the lid, and store it in a dark place for, oh, a while? Maybe a few months?

(Here's an important note regarding working with chilis. It's fun to joke about the piquancy melting your head and shit, but: there's actual risk involved when wrangling what are essentially small, pretty capsaicin bombs. That shit is pepper spray, and it is No Joke. Wear gloves whenever you're exposing your hands to the inner parts of ghost peppers. Don't put your face over the mortar when you're grinding them, or over the pot when they're cooking. Clean the holy hell out of every implement and surface that comes into direct contact with the peppers, or with the gloves that have handled the peppers. Don't casually rub your itchy nose or your eyes while working with ghost peppers. Wash your hands thoroughly before you handle contact lenses. Ghost peppers are even more painful to your other mucous membranes than they are for the inside of your mouth.)

(And, for God's sake, if you're gonna be an idiot and expose your eyes or the inside of your nose to aerosolized capsaicin, please: Set up a video camera first, OK?)

Mark:

What is your go to steak seasoning? My dad goes with just salt/pepper/garlic, but I prefer Montréal steak seasoning with a little bit of hot shot added for good measure.

[drools]

Is there anything else we can try on our steaks to get flavor without overpowering the meat?

Eh, don't go too crazy with your steaks, Mark. You want to accent—not compete with—the mild but very amazingly tasty flavor of beef that has been caramelized on the outside and left mostly unmolested on the inside (which is how you serve your steaks because you like things that are good). For my money, mankind has yet to improve upon the combination of freshly cracked black pepper (lots and lots of it) and a generous pinch of salt, gently pressed onto the meat shortly before its exposure to heat, and then a pat of good butter left to melt atop the steak immediately after it finishes cooking. You can probably get away with a splash of worcestershire sauce after the steak cooks, while it's resting in its juices before being served, but you shouldn't need more than that.

That's kinda the whole thing with steak, right? It's meant, I think, as a way to appreciate the taste of a big hunk of beef. So if you're gonna pair it with other flavors, they should be fairly straightforward ones that flatter and complement the beef. Do what you like, sincerely, but, as much as you can, try to foreground the taste of the beef itself. Because, damn, it's yummy.

John:

My wife convinced me to register for a very expensive cast iron skillet for our wedding. I think we were watching something on Food Network, and the talking head gave an extremely convincing argument that anything cooked in cast iron tasted better: eggs, meat, plants, you name it.

Not for nothing, but: This isn't totally true, the bit about everything cooked in cast iron tasting better. There's no particular reason you'd need cast iron to make some eggs. The virtue of a good cast iron pan is the shrieking intensity of heat it can handle; foods which need to be cooked over that kind of heat will benefit from cast iron. Eggs, on the other hand—eh, what the hell, go ahead and use your cheapo nonstick-coated piece of crap. It doesn't really make all that big a difference, unless you're making them in batches.

Same deal with gym socks. They taste pretty shitty no matter what you cook them in, lemme tell ya.

Seven years later, the skillet sits in the back of our pots/pans shelf, gathering dust and also sporting a very heavy layer of rust. I think we used it twice to cook eggs and some sort of hash recipe, then realized it was a) heavy, b) a pain in the ass to clean, and c) we didn't properly "season" it before use.

So my questions are:

-Is the skillet salvagable?

Yes! Wash it thoroughly with soap and hot water (it's OK to use those at this point, since the skillet isn't seasoned yet), dry it completely, then scour the rust off of it with some sturdy steel wool. See how easy that seems? It isn't. It's a huge fucking pain in the ass. Scour and scour and scour. It's gonna take a long time and you're gonna have forearms the size of toddlers when you're done. Park yourself in front of the TV and watch, like, the entire run of The Dick Van Dyke Show while you work. Scour and scour and scour and scour.

Now, use a towel to clean off all the dust you created with your scouring, and season your skillet. We covered this before (second question here), but: rub the entire surface of the skillet with a rag that has been dipped in vegetable oil (or canola oil or ghee or bacon fat or whatever), then stick it in a 350-degree oven for a half-hour, then wipe it down with a dry rag, then let it cool. Then repeat. Then repeat again. Do it five or six times, and your pan will be coated with a wonderfully stick- and rust-resistant plastic coating. Which you will preserve by never washing it with soap again, and also never cooking highly acidic stuff like tomatoes in it, ever ever ever, OK?

-If salvagable, is it worth keeping and incorporating into our everyday cooking hardware, given its weight and bulk?

Yes. Sear-roast a steak in it, and you will understand.

-Was Bobby Flay patently lying to us about the wonders of cast iron cooking?

Yes! (Well, no. But I really wanted to be able to say yes to all of your questions, so, yes.)

Michael:

What's the best dip for watching all of the sports? Or, which dip reigns supreme at group gatherings laden with vacuous small talk? I need dip answers, damnit. There's no time!

Michael, the best dip of all is guacamole, and this is beyond dispute. However, guacamole is one of those foods that, because it is green and mushy and ooh scawy scawy avocados awe gonna get meeee!!!, certain overgrown toddlers masquerading as grownups get all I-don't-like-things-that-are-good in its presence. You may serve these people French onion dip, which is not the second-best dip (that'd be crab dip, which is also frightening to anthropomorphized horse's asses), but which is tasty and nonthreatening and probably less likely to harsh the vibe at your group gathering than giving those food-scared weenies what they deserve, which is to be whacked on the head with a length of hose and dipped into a swamp.

Send your Feedbag questions to albertburneko@gmail.com, subject line "Feedbag."

Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home, or in shorter form on Twitter @albertburneko. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.

Image by Sam Woolley