The recent heat wave and drought across the upper Midwest have taken a toll on some crops, but the weather has helped make some peppers extra-spicy and other vegetables more flavorful. For diners who want to take advantage of extra-hot peppers, here's a recipe for jalapeno poppers from Milwaukee chef Dan Jacobs.
The seeds and inner membranes of the jalapenos contain much of their heat. They can be left in or scraped out and discarded depending on your heat tolerance.
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours
Makes 18 halves
3 ounces diced pancetta
9 large jalapeno peppers (about 12 ounces)
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
1 quart canola or peanut oil, for frying
Sour cream, to serve
Salsa, to serve
In a small skillet over medium-high heat, brown the pancetta until lightly crisp, about 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to paper towels to drain excess fat. Let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, slice each jalapeno in half lengthwise. If desired, use the tip of the knife to scrape out and discard the seeds and membranes.
In a medium bowl, use your hands to mix together the cream cheese, cheddar cheese and pancetta. Use a butter knife to spread a bit of the cream cheese mixture into each jalapeno half. The cheese filling should be level with the sides of the peppers, not mounded.
Place the milk in one wide, shallow bowl, the flour in another and the breadcrumbs in a third. One at a time, dip the stuffed jalapeno halves first in the milk, then in the flour, shaking off any excess, but making certain the peppers are well coated. Arrange the peppers on a plate and allow to dry for 10 minutes.
Once the peppers have dried a bit, dunk them again in the milk, then roll them in the breadcrumbs to coat well. Set them aside again to dry for another 10 minutes. Repeat the process of dunking the peppers in the milk and breadcrumbs one final time. By this point, the milk will be more of a sludge, but this is fine.
In a medium saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil to 365 F. Working in batches of 3 so as not to crowd the pan, add the jalapenos and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the peppers to paper towels to drain excess oil. Check the temperature of the oil between batches, then repeat with the remaining peppers.
Serve immediately with sour cream and salsa.
(Recipe adapted from Dan Jacobs, executive chef at Roots Restaurant and Cellar in Milwaukee)