Peppercorns are the fruit of Pepper Vine (Piper nigrum) and these green peppercorns (drupes) are the unripe fruit of this vine. Once picked these will start to oxidise, turning the drupes black so it is important to buy them when you want to use them.
In a commercial setting, the green peppercorn sprigs are first treated and then allowed to dry, the skin shrinks and blackens and becomes what we know as black pepper. If you peel away this black skin you'll find that inside is a white seed - this is white pepper.
These fresh green peppercorns are a bit spongy, there's a little bit of give if you squeeze them. It's very easy to crush them and if you eat them raw, they start off with a nondescript taste that blooms into a mild pepper warmth. It is certainly a lot milder than a chilli.
The recipe I've decided to make is a Fresh Green Peppercorn Sauce. More often than not, this sauce will be made with preserved green peppercorns but while I've got access to the fresh produce I'll make the most of it.
2-3 sprigs fresh green peppercorns (remove peppercorns from sprigs before using)
½ cup stock (chicken, beef or vegetable)
½ cup cream
This sauce will accompany just about any meat - beef, pork and chicken would be my preference - and to get extra flavour into the sauce I use the pan in which I've cooked my piece of meat to make the sauce.
In this case I've made it to accompany some beef sirloin steaks and I've made the sauce while the meat rests.
Remove any excess fat from the skillet and drizzle in a tablespoon or two of stock - place over a medium heat.
Using a flat spatula, scrap up any meat remnants (those lovely bits of caramelisation from the bottom of the skillet) and begin to dissolve them in the stock. Lift the skillet from the heat, drizzle in a splash of Cognac, swirl it and then burn off the alcohol - this is easier to do with a gas cooktop, just tilt the pan as you swirl and the flame will ignite the vapour.
Once the flame burns out, pour in the rest of the stock and the peppercorns. Simmer rapidly until the stock reduces by at least half before adding the cream. Turn down the heat and simmer gently until thickened.
The sauce is now ready to serve.