Kampot pepper is quite possibly my favourite spice. There’s something aromatic, and distinctly floral about these peppercorns, making it lighter and less likely to overwhelm than its European counterparts. Kampot pepper has a protected geographical indication status, meaning if it hasn’t been cultivated between the Damrei Mountains and the Cambodian Coastline, then it isn’t the real thing.
Kampot pepper is popular among French chefs, who brought the spice back with them during the Colonial period. These peppercorns are often sun dried – when fresh, these peppercorns are an essential part of dishes like beef lok lak. During my visit to the crab markets in Kep, I tasted this in its most exquisite form – to dip fresh crab into a divine citrus and peppercorn sauce made of salt, lime juice and ground pepper.
Unfortunately I don’t seem to have found a reliable provider of dirt cheap, succulent and mouthwateringly delicious crab in London, but I did bring back some pepper from my trip to Kampot. It’s not quite as easy to get your hands on the stuff in London, but I managed to find some on Souschef. At £7 per 100g it’s not quite as affordable as it is in Cambodia, but once ground, the peppercorns should last you a good long while.
The following recipe is barely a recipe – more like a seasoning of home popped popcorn. In terms of comfort food, or an ideal snack, you’d be hard pressed to find a better alternative. Making it yourself in a pot is not only cheaper, but you won’t get that greasy film that often emerges once its out of the microwave.
For Kampot pepper popcorn, you will need:
Tablespoon of olive oil
25g popcorn kernels
5g finely ground Kampot pepper
Nib of butter (optional)
The first step couldn’t be simpler – all you need is a stove and a pan with a lid. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in the pan before adding the kernels. Be sure to use a lid or you will have hot corn flying everywhere! The heat should be quite high, and after a minute or so you should hear the familiar popping of the corn. Take the pan off of the heat as soon as you hear the popping die down – it should be done.
As tempting as it is, it’s vital to take the pan off of the heat as soon as its done – I’m always determined to get those last few kernels to pop, which burns the rest. Make peace with the fact that some kernels will never pop and move on to the next step – decanting the popcorn into a suitable bowl, preferably a lacquered coconut one.
For butter fiends, I recommend adding a dollop while the corn is still hot, so it can begin to melt. I personally prefer it without – it feels cleaner this way, and I’m not the biggest fan of butter on popcorn.
Top the popped corn with the ground pepper, salt, lime zest and a squeeze of lime. The intense aroma and delicate yet complex flavours of the Kampot pepper makes this simple, gluten-free snack a little more unusual.