“A notably good one is Kampot Rouge, which has an amazing fruity rounded flavour. Get some if you can. It is a rare thing.”
-Tom Alcott, founder of Peppermongers
When Tom Alcott recommends a pepper that’s enough for me. I immediately set out in search and Amazon, as ever, delivered.
I’m keen on my pepper and when a rich, dark earthy overtone might give extra depth (with mushrooms or red meat for example) I’ll add Indonesian long pepper.
Where something light and citrusy is sought then I’ll use Sichuan pepper although often I find this a bit too bright and hot – it can even cause a slight numb sensation. Now I know what to use instead – it’s the Kampot Rouge.
Kampot Rouge (or red Kampot pepper) comes from Kampot and Kep provinces on the south coast of Cambodia. The proximity of the sea and the elephant mountain chain result in the climate in this area being particularly suited to growing pepper with heavy and regular rain falls, but the soil is porous allowing good drainage. Kampot pepper grows best at the foot of mountains because of the quartz.
It’s the first Cambodian product to gain Geographic Indicator (GI) status – with the name, quality standards, production methods and geographic borders being registered with the World Trade Organisation. Some hundred pepper farmers in Cambodia are members of the Kampot Pepper Producers’ Association, a cooperative which protects quality standards and markets the pepper. By GI specification chemical fertilisers are forbidden. This commercial protection is important to the farmers whose vines take three years to mature, but once established the vines will continue to produce for twenty years.
Harvest is from February to May, the corns are removed from the stems, boiled for a couple of minutes to sterilise and then dried in the sun for about a week.
It has a slightly lemony taste, with some initial heat and a soft, long aftertaste. The citrus flavour makes them particularly good with fish or seafood. Clarissa Hyman, writing in Food And Travel Magazine, suggests using it as part of a marinade to flavour swordfish served with green beans and black rice. Mix four teaspoons of roughly ground Kampot pepper with the juice of a lime, four teaspoons of palm sugar and four teaspoons of fish sauce. You only need to marinate for about half an hour – if you don’t have swordfish, you could use tuna… or even monkfish.
It’s a pepper used in food in Asia for a thousand years – it’s first recorded by the thirteenth century explorer Tcheou Ta Kouanau who wrote a fascinating account of his travels. Later it became beloved of French chefs under colonial rule in the nineteenth century. I use it in savoury dishes, but the Association’s website includes an intriguing recipe for using it in ice cream.
To find out why not to buy them in brine go here.
You can go on a tour of the family-owned Bo Tree Farm to learn a bit more about the history of this lovely pepper, and have the chance to taste and buy different peppers.