Here’s what not to do with a glut of particularly-spicy garden-grown jalapeños: Stuff them like bell peppers (but with taco-seasoned beef, cheddar cheese, and onions—sounds ok, right?!) and try to serve them as a main dish. No amount of sour cream will tame the fire.
So what do you do with an aggressively healthy jalapeño plant? After the failure of the stuffed-pepper experiment, I had two main ideas: 1) Make a bunch of pickled jalapeños. (But what would the advantage of that be, besides simply being able to put off figuring out how to use them? I’d still be stuck with all of the jalapeños, only in a less-versatile pickled form.) 2) Give them away to friends and coworkers. (But come on, that’s such a joke; it’s like when your parents bring you old crap that they don’t want anymore because they don’t want to throw it out and they’re hoping that you’ll have a use for it. I’m not going to make other people responsible for getting rid of my jalapeños. They might be happy to have heirloom tomatoes and fresh herbs from the garden, but no one is going to get excited about a homegrown jalapeño. You save all of 20 cents and it tastes exactly like the supermarket kind.)
And then I discovered a solution after spending a weekend in Canaan Valley with some friends. While we were there, we went to the Brew Skies Festival, where the beer was good, but the jalapeño kettle corn from Almost Heaven Kettle Corn was downright addictive. As in, they ran out of it and we begged them to make more because the two bags that we’d already polished off were not enough. Like all kettle corn, it was salty and sweet, but it was also a little spicy, and every couple of handfuls had a few slices of crunchy, cooked jalapeño. I came home on a mission to recreate it with the peppers from the garden.
One of my friends asked the vendor if they wouldn’t mind sharing the recipe, and they said that they use both pickled and fresh jalapeños, and that they cook the popcorn in the oil leftover from frying the jalapeños. I tried cooking pickled jalapeños and didn’t enjoy the texture, so I just stuck with all fresh ones. I also found that slicing the jalapeños fairly thinly helps them say crunchier for longer after you cook them. Not that it takes that long to eat a batch, but just in case you’re trying to prep it ahead of time for a cookout or something, you know.
Note: Jalapeños can vary in their heat level, so try one of yours before you begin. Also, you could reduce or increase the sugar by up to a tablespoon to suite your tastes. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my husband is a stovetop popcorn fiend and swears by Orville Redenbacher kernels.
Jalapeño Kettle Corn
makes about 5 cups, or 2-4 servings
- 1 cup 1/8″-thick slices of fresh jalapeño (about 3-4 jalapeños); no need to remove the seeds
- 1/4 c. vegetable oil
- 1/4 c. popcorn kernels
- 3 Tbsp. sugar
- scant 1/2 tsp. table salt
- Turn on your oven vent if you have one. If not, be prepared to start coughing when you cook the jalapeños.
- Line a plate with a double layer of paper towels.
- In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the jalapeños and stir constantly until nicely browned, about 6 minutes. Keep an eye on them and turn the heat to medium if they are coloring too quickly; once they get going, they cook fast. Think of it like cooking bacon: you want the slices dark but not burned, so that they get crispy after they cool down. As soon as the jalapeños are browned, remove them with a slotted spoon and place on the paper-towel lined plate to drain. Take the pan off the heat, but do not throw out the oil that’s left in the pan.
- Once the oil that’s left in the pan has cooled a little bit, strain any seeds out of it, and then measure out 2 Tbsp.
- In a cold medium saucepan with a well-fitting lid, stir together the 2 Tbsp. of jalapeño cooking oil that you reserved, the kernels, the sugar, and the salt. Put the lid on the pot and turn the heat to medium-high. When you hear the kernels start to pop, start shaking the pot occasionally (hold the lid on while you do this) in order to evenly distribute the sugar and prevent the popcorn from burning. In between shaking, set the pot back down on the burner. When the popping slows down, pour the popcorn out into a large bowl and let it cool for a few minutes. It will get crispier as it cools.
- Taste a cooked jalapeño slice to see how spicy it is, and then add as many of them as you want back into the kettle corn. (I used all of them.)
- The kettle corn is best when it’s freshest and should be eaten within an hour or so of being made; the jalapeño slices may lose their crispness after much longer than that.