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Roasted Red Peppers

Fine Cooking Issue 95
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Jarred roasted red peppers are a pantry staple for many busy cooks. Great as a topping on bruschetta and sandwiches or as a smoky flavor booster for pastas, dips, and salsas, roasted peppers add lots of great flavor with very little effort.

Red bell, pimiento, and cherry peppers are the most common varieties you’ll find in jars. They are typically roasted, peeled, and seeded and then preserved in an acidic brine of water, salt, and citric acid (or less often, in olive oil). Of the many brands on the supermarket shelves, we tasted 10, looking for peppers with a firm texture, smoky roasted-pepper flavor, and gentle acidity. The three brands here were our favorites.

Dunbars marinated roasted peppers ($2.99 for a 12-oz. jar) were so good that several tasters said they would gladly eat them straight or add them to an antipasto platter. Deep red and gently charred, these peppers had a flavor that shone through their light smokiness, and their plump texture won everyone over. Dunbar’s secret?  Their red bell peppers are packed in olive oil, and they even throw a garlic clove or two into each jar. They’re as close to homemade as you can get.

Sclafani Italian-style roasted peppers ($3.69 for a 12-oz. jar) were a close second. Made from pimiento peppers (often sweeter and more succulent than red bell peppers), they were bright and tangy with a subtle, pleasant acidity from the brine. We liked their texture too, although some tasters thought the pieces of pepper left unpeeled were slightly tough.

The fire-roasted red peppers from Trader Joe’s ($1.99 for a 12-oz. jar) had bits of charred skin and a few seeds floating around in the jar, which we took as a good sign that the peppers were minimally processed. The type of pepper isn’t identified on the label, but they were sweet and intensely smoky, with a smooth, almost silky texture. We would happily add these to a dip or sandwich for a burst of pepper flavor.

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