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4-Star Pepper Jelly Cream Cheese Dip

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor
June 5, 2014

Photo credit: Ryan Prewitt, chef of Pêche

Yankees may not be as familiar with the charms of pepper jelly, the hot-sweet Southern throwback that’s been around for ages. But when it’s done right, the dish’s classic appeal quickly makes sense. 

At Pêche, in New Orleans, Louisiana, James Beard Award–winning chef Ryan Prewitt tweaks the cream cheese-topped-with-pepper-jelly standby to four-star effect. Prewitt remembers the stuff from his Memphis, Tennessee childhood: “It’s a traditional ‘company’s coming over, you need something really quick’: a block of cream cheese, you pour pepper jelly on top of it.” The dip served at room temperature may not look pretty, but it’s a “Southern staple,” says Prewitt.

Nowadays he makes a charred onion dip topped with pepper jelly. Sour cream, mascarpone, cream cheese, Grana Padano, and roasted garlic are blitzed together, then tossed into a tiny cast-iron skillet and popped in the oven for a few minutes, where the dip caramelizes. Lastly, Prewitt shellacks it with a fiery, sweet housemade pepper jelly.

"You have this super-rich cheesy thing underneath a super sweet-spicy thing that makes it impossible to stop eating.” He serves it with crunchy homemade potato chips. 

But don’t stop at cream cheese. His homemade jelly is so handy—“it’s got so much sugar in it, and so much heat in it”—that it works with “all sorts of stuff.” He uses it on fried fish collars and to lacquer tuna bellies, but the average cook might discover other delightful ways to use it, perhaps on creamy crab dip or dolloped onto grilled fish. (No matter how you spoon it out, it’s delicious.)

Charred Onion Dip

From Ryan Prewitt, Pêche
Makes about 6 cups

For the dip:
1 lb sour cream
1 lb mascarpone
8 oz cream cheese
1 cup Grana Padano cheese, grated
8 Tbsp whole-grain mustard
2 teaspoons hot sauce, or more
1 cup chives or green onions, minced, plus one Tbsp green onions, minced, for garnish
4 Tbsp lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
8 tablespoons roasted garlic cloves, mashed into a paste
5 large fresh spring onions (about 3 cups), seasoned with salt, pepper, and olive oil, and charred on the grill 
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon dried garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried onion powder
Pepper Jelly (see below)
Potato chips or crackers

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine thoroughly ingredients in mixing bowl. Adjust seasonings, to taste. Pour into baking container, such as a cast-iron skillet, and put in top third of oven for 15 minutes or until it starts to get bubbly and hot.

Remove from oven, garnish with scallions and a thin layer of pepper jelly, and serve with potato chips.

Pepper jelly:
1 1/2 cups white wine
5 hot chilis such as red jalapenos or hot Hungarian wax peppers, stemmed
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
3 3/4 cups sugar
1 Tbsp pectin

Bring white wine to boil, then simmer for four to five minutes, until reduced by one-third, to about a cup.

Grill chilis (or using tongs, toast them over an open flame on a gas stove), evenly charring them on all sides. Add to blender with white vinegar, and blend on high speed. The vinegar mixture should taste very spicy. In a 3-qt pot, combine chili vinegar and white wine.

Heat mixture over medium heat. Add salt and sugar and bring to a boil, stirring to combine. Add the pectin and bring to a boil while constantly stirring. As the jelly begins to foam, after about 1 minute of boiling, skimming off foam, cut heat and transfer to a heatproof container.