Top chefs spice things up with this ingredient from close to home.
TEXT MERYL KOH PHOTOGRAPHY VERNON WONG
From butter to wine, the French are notorious for claiming they do it best. Yet, when it comes to seasoning food, top chefs like Alain Ducasse and pastry wizard Pierre Herme favour a spice from a state near us – Sarawak black pepper.
Ducasse likes its subtle heat for meats, while Herme once used it to create a dessert – fruit compote in pepper syrup – for All Nippon Airways. “Sarawak black pepper tends to have a pleasantly refined flavour and a relatively mild heat that is great for seasoning meats and poultry,” the chef with 19 Michelin stars told the US media.
Kitchen maestros here are also using the Malaysian peppercorns. Julien Royer, chef-owner of fine-dining outfit Odette at National Gallery Singapore, first tried the spice a few years back, when his wife’s friend brought some back from Sarawak. “It is a straightforward product that offers heat without being overpowering,” says Royer, who feels it is best used on savoury dishes. At Odette, the pepper is freshly cracked and sprinkled over seared pigeon.
Chef Ivan Brehm uses it on wagyu at The Kitchen at Bacchanalia. “The Sarawak pepper business is known to be well-established, and applies good grading systems and pest control,” he says. “The peppercorns are larger and the flavour is more delicate.”
While Brehm and Royer use the spice to enhance meat, Saint Pierre’s Emmanuel Stroobant prefers crushing whole peppercorns and creating a “crust” to show off its fragrant aromatics. He recently created a monkfish carpaccio with orange sorbet rolled in Sarawak pepper for his new menu. “Its high level of piperine (the substance that gives black pepper its aroma) is what differentiates it,” says Stroobant.