But, truth be told, while the crispy crust and gooey cheese inside are almost enough to provide the ultimate gustatory experience, flavor-wise, it’s really the smoky flavor of the pimientos that makes this dish stand out. So, don’t skip the part about roasting the pimientos over fire. If you do, you’ll get only half the goodness.
First of all, aren’t those bell peppers and not pimentos? Pimiento is a variety of bell pepper. They both belong to the species Capsicum annuum. Some people claim that pimientos are small and heart-shaped but, for me, what differentiates bell peppers from pimientos is the taste, not the size nor the shape. Pimientos are sweet. More aromatic too.
Whether you call them bell peppers or pimientos, start by roasting them. To make roasting easier, a wire basket is recommended. This tool is mostly used for grilling fish but there are wire baskets large enough to hold a whole butterflied chicken. Just place the pimientos inside, snap close and grill. It’s so easy to turn the pimientos over without danger that they will slide or fall.
To make peeling easier, place the roasted pimientos in a container and cover tightly. The steam will push the skin away from the flesh (some people call it blistering but I try not to use that term in cooking if I can help it because the mental image it conjures just isn’t appetizing). This takes several minutes. Use that time to make the cheese filling.
Tug off the pimientos’ skins and discard. Then, carefully slit them open. You’re going to stuff them with the cheese filling so the opening has to be large enough to allow you to push the filling in.
But before the stuffing part, it is a good idea to scrape off the seeds and pith inside the pimientos. Some people don’t mind leaving them there, but I do. Who wants to eat pimiento seeds, right? To do this, run the tip of a spoon or teaspoon inside the pimiento and very carefully scrape off the seeds the pith. The pimiento flesh will be very tender at this point so be careful. With the seeds and piths gone, you have plenty of space to spoon in the cheese filling.
Now, the katsu part. You’ll need flour, beaten egg and panko. First, roll the stuffed pimiento in flour and shake off the excess. Dip in egg then coat with panko.
A few deep frying tips. Deep frying means you need the depth of the oil to be at least three inches. Test the temperature of the oil by dropping in a small piece of bread. If the bread turns dark brown in less than five seconds, the oil is too hot. The temperature you want is where the bread turns a golden brown in about 10 seconds (no, I don’t use a thermometer).
During frying, roll the pimientos carefully in the hot oil for even browning. This entire process should take about 30 seconds. If the frying takes too long, the cheese will melt too much and ooze out of the pimientos. That’s why it is important to fry the pimientos at the correct temperature.
Katsu-style cheese-stuffed pimientos
Prepare the pimientos
- Grill the pimientos directly over fire until the skins are black.
- Turn them over every half minute or so so that the skins char as evenly as possible.
- Place the hot roasted pimientos in a container with an airtight lid (a resealable plastic bag will do as well).
- Cover and allow to steam for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.
Prepare the stuffing
- Finely slice the scallions.
- Finely chop the bird’s eye chilies and red onion.
- Grate the cheese.
- Place the cheese, onion leaves, onion and chilies in a bowl. Season with some salt and pepper. Toss to distribute the ingredients evenly.
Stuff the pimientos
- Take the pimientos out of the container and peel off the skins.
- Using a sharp pointed knife, slit one side of each pimiento to create a pocket.
- Using a teaspoon, scoop out the seeds and piths. Do it delicately as the flesh of the pimientos are already soft and they tear easily.
- Stuff the pimientos with the cheese filling. I did this by hand, pushing small amount of stuffing into each pimiento little by little.
Fry the cheese-stuffed pimientos
- Start heating the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan.
- Create your assembly line. Place the flour on a plate. Beat the egg in a shallow bowl. Pour the panko on another plate. Place all three — flour, egg and panko — side by side.
- Holding the stuffed pimiento by the stem, dredge in flour, shaking off the excess.
- Dip the floured pimiento in the beaten egg, making sure that every inch of the surface is coated.
- Roll the pimiento in panko, again making sure that every inch of the surface is coated.
- Repeat for the rest of the pimientos.
- Deep fry the breaded cheese-stuffed pimientos until the surface is golden and crisp.
- Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the fried pimientos and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels or napkins.
- Serve the very hot cheese-stuffed pimientos with chunky tomato sauce on the side for dipping.