Recipe from The Neelys’ Celebration Cookbook by "Pat Neely, Gina Neely, Ann Volkwein" (Knopf, 2011)PAT Gina’s told me before, “If you like the kickoff, then you’re going to love these poppers!” They have the perfect amount of kick to them. Between the smokiness of the paprika and the heat of the cayenne pepper, take one bite and the game is on! We remove the jalapeño seeds so that the poppers aren’t too hot, but leave them in if you like really spicy. After all, I am a hot man, and I mean that both palate-wise and physical-wise (and, as you can tell, I’m very, very humble). Jalapeños are a vegetable that you can get seriously creative with: fi lling them up with cheese, using buttermilk in a batter, and deep-frying these little puppies makes one of the best appetizers you can imagine.
Preheat your oil in a Dutch oven or fryer to 375 degrees F.
- Peanut oil, for frying
- 16 medium jalapeno peppers
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup grated pepper-Jack cheese
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 2 cups self-rising flour
- 2 tablespoons smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg, beaten
Make a long slit from the stem of each jalapeño to the bottom. Make another slit across the top of the pepper, creating a T-shape. Remove the seeds and ribs with a small paring knife, or, if you prefer it fiery hot, leave the seeds and ribs intact.
Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once it foams, add the shallot and garlic, and sauté until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Scrape the shallot and garlic into a bowl, and let cool. Once the shallot and garlic are cool, stir in the pepper Jack and the cream cheese. Carefully stuff the jalapeños with the cheese mixture, and push the seams closed to seal (the cheese mixture inside will stick and hold them shut).
Whisk together the flour, smoked paprika, cayenne, and a pinch of salt and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk together the buttermilk and the egg in a separate, small bowl. Dredge the stuff ed peppers through the flour, then the buttermilk, and then the flour again. If you like, take a second run through the buttermilk and another dip in the flour, so you have some extra crunch in your popper.
Working in batches, gently place the jalapeños in the hot oil in the fryer and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Drain on a paper-towel-lined platter, and season with salt and pepper. Let cool for just a few minutes before serving. These suckers will be hot!