It’s the best known emergency appetizer of Southern party hosts: pepper jelly plopped over a block of cream cheese and served with crackers. But this retro hors d’oeuvre is just one way to enjoy the beloved preserve’s attributes, its fans say.
“If you think of any savory food, adding some sweet heat usually makes it better,” says Elsie’s Plate and Pie owner Paul Dupré. “We knew back when we were designing our menu that we wanted to use pepper jelly in some of our dishes.”
No kidding. Elsie’s pimento melt is gilded with strawberry pepper jelly. The boudin burger gets a schmear of peach pepper jelly. The honey chops are glazed with blueberry pepper jelly barbecue sauce. The restaurant’s most popular salad dressing is pepper jelly vinaigrette. Other sandwiches and burgers incorporate it, too.
The pepper jelly onramp was seamless for Dupré. His wife and business partner, Lindsay Zimmerle-Dupré, makes her own line, Arlington House, which is sold by the jar at the Mid City restaurant.
The composition of pepper jelly is exactly what it sounds like: red or green bell peppers, and often jalapeno, serrano or habanero, boiled down with pectin and lots of sugar. Sometimes, fruits and other ingredients are thrown in, too. A small dollop adds a sweet counterpoint to savory chargrilled oysters, and a spoonful whisked into a sauce is a fast way to add complexity.
“I love showing people how to cook with pepper jellies,” GrinningJupiter Jammery owner Ashley Andermann says. “They make amazing glazes. Really, you can do so many things with them.”
Andermann makes several types of the preserve, including pecan praline, three berry and peach habanero.
Once you start noticing pepper jelly’s presence, you’ll see it everywhere—in supermarkets, farmers markets and, yes, on restaurant menus.