I first discovered this amazing appetizer (in its unmedicated form, of course) at the The Game Sports Bar and Grill in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Turns out this area is not only a major producer of chiles (it’s home of the International Chile Pepper Institute), but also pecans, both of which are beautifully represented in this recipe. The cooling cream cheese filling, perfectly accented by a crispy toasted pecan crust, balances the fiery peppers for an unforgettable bite. If using hash in this recipe, look for a dry crumbly type, as opposed to a gummy, sticky variety. Makes 12 poppers. Serving size: 2 poppers.
3/4 cup shelled pecans
12 small jalapeño peppers
6 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 grams kief or finely ground dry hash
1 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 large eggs
1/3 cup milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil for frying
Toast pecans in an ungreased cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Alternatively, toast nuts on an ungreased baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until browned. Use a food processor to coarsely chop nuts. Set aside. Put on plastic gloves and prepare peppers by cutting off top stem portion, then taking a knife and carefully removing the seeds and core while leaving the pepper intact. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Sprinkle kief or finely ground dry hash over cream cheese and beat until evenly incorporated. Stir in shredded cheddar cheese. Stuff each pepper with cheese mixture—about 2 teaspoons per small pepper. Beat eggs with water in a small bowl. Mix flour and salt and pepper on a shallow plate. Mix chopped toasted pecans with panko crumbs on another shallow plate. Use tongs to dip a stuffed pepper in egg mixture to moisten then into the flour mixture to coat. Repeat with remaining peppers. Now use tongs to dip floured peppers back in the egg mixture then in the pecan/panko mixture to completely coat. Transfer coated pepper to an ungreased baking sheet. Repeat with remaining peppers. Heat oil in a deep fryer to 350 degrees, or heat enough oil to cover peppers in a wok or deep skillet. Fry stuffed jalapeños for about 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown. Drain for a minute in a wire rack. Serve hot.
Variation: You can alternately bake poppers on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray in a 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes—not quite as good but not shabby either.
Note: To prevent your fingers from burning for hours, always wear gloves when handling hot peppers, especially when you’ll be handling them as much as you do in this recipe. Keep gloved hands away from face as you can burn the delicate tissue around eyes, nose and mouth with the chile oils on the gloves—no laughing matter if you’ve ever done it. Contrary to popular belief, a pepper’s heat is held in its inner membranes, not the seeds. If you want your finished dish to be less spicy, take care to remove all the white inner membrane from the chiles you use.