A Jamaican women whom I work with went home to the island a few weeks ago and surprised me with a bag of scotch bonnets (I don’t know how she got fresh produce through customs but I never ask questions when it comes to free peppers). I have a whole bag of scotch bonnets from my own garden accumulating in my freezer so I had to think long and hard about what to do with this unexpected windfall. The peppers were a delightful assortment of shapes and colors so I didn’t feel right mashing them into a pulp to make hot sauce. I wanted to do something that would allow me to showcase their beauty while enjoying their exquisite flavor. It just so happens I knew just the thing: Pique.
Pique is a traditional Puerto Rican condiment that is almost always homemade and usually consists of chili peppers, vinegar, salt and lime juice, and some combination of other ingredients such as pineapple rind or juice, garlic black pepper, rum and bay leaves. The peppers used are usually less intensely hot than scotch bonnets but hey, that just means they are not doing it right.
For my pique I did not follow a recipe. In addition to the scotch bonnets I added some cayenne and hot cowhorn peppers. Here is the (approximate) list of ingredients I ended up using:
1 lb Scotch Bonnet, Cayenne and Hot Cowhorn Peppers
5 cloves of garlic
Juice of three limes
A few whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 bay leaves
1 shot Havana Club white rum
Enough White Vinegar to fill the bottle
Chop the peppers in half or just enough to fit through the neck of the bottle (if you have to cram them in they will be less likely to float up the neck and will stay submerged better). Use a chopstick or something to cram them into the bottle. An empty rum bottle works great, recycled Crystal sauce bottles are good as well. Add the rest of the ingredients and shake. Let the bottle sit for several days before using. It will get hotter with age. Top off with white vinegar after each use or so and it will last indefinitely.
Pique is good on just about anything hot sauce is good on, but it is absolutely fantastic on rice. For my money it doesn’t get any better than a plate of arroz con gandules drenched in pique. Arroz con gandules is the national rice dish of Puerto Rico so it is no wonder they go great together. It is also really simple to make, so I may as well show you how that is done as well. This is my personal recipe which may or may not be authentic (something I do not concern myself with in general) but has the endorsement of every boricua who has ever been lucky enough to try it. In fact it often receives that highest compliment of “this tastes like my grandma’s arroz con gandules!” – and I will have to take their word for it.
Arroz con Gandules
1/2 medium onion, chopped/diced
3-4 tablespoons minced garlic
3 tablespoons Goya Sofrito (or sub. homemade sofrito to taste)
2 cups rice
1 can gandules/pigeon peas
1 packet Sazon of choice
1 tbsp oregano
Approx 1/4 cup+ Goya Adobo (to taste, I never measure)
3 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft and translucent. Add garlic and saute one minute. Add sofrito and saute until heated and bubbling (Goya sofrito is cooked and thicker than homemade sofrito…if using uncooked homemade sofrito, add sooner with the onions and cook longer to reduce).
Add the rice, adobo, sazon, and oregano and stir until the rice is coated evenly. Increase heat to high and toast rice for about five minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the can of gandules (including the liquid), the olives, and the water. Heat to a boil, stirring occasionally, and boil for one minute. Cover and reduce heat to low and cook for 25 minutes.
Turn off heat, let stand five more minutes, then fluff and serve.
Drench in pique, and eat with chicken and a ripe sliced avocado. ¡Que Rico!