I recently got myself an Italian mixed, the only kind of sub sandwich I ever order. I was placing the order online (because that’s how I order everything now), which meant I had menu customization options right in front of me. I browsed the options and clicked “add banana peppers” without much thought, because they sounded like a fine addition to a sub.
And then I took a bite and realized they weren’t a fine addition—they were a perfect addition. I will never again order an Italian mixed sub without banana peppers. But what are they, besides the perfect sandwich topper?
What are banana peppers?
The banana peppers on my sub were the same pickled banana peppers you can find in jars alongside the pickles and other sandwich toppings at the grocery store. They don’t taste like a cucumber pickle at all, nor do they taste like other jarred peppers such as roasted red peppers. Pickled banana peppers are tangy and vinegary, creating almost a pucker effect like something sour would, but in the most delightful way.
Even in in their non-pickled state, banana peppers have a tangy flavor profile. My aunt and uncle grow them in their garden, so I’ve added them to sandwiches fresh as well; they can sometimes have a kick, but not always. While they’re considered mild for chilis, their Scoville rating ranges from zero to 500 units, which isn’t the mellowest of the bunch.
Banana peppers, also known as Hungarian peppers, are easily confused with pepperoncini, a similar, often pickled, sometimes spicy pepper that Papa Johns puts in its pizza boxes and Olive Garden puts on its bottomless salads. Like pickled banana peppers, pickled pepperoncini are tangy and vinegary more than they are hot, and they result in some puckering of the face.
Presumably you could swap out banana peppers in an Olive Garden copycat salad recipe and have a somewhat similar result, but banana peppers also have their own interesting applications beyond topping sandwiches and lettuce.
Stuffed banana peppers
My husband hails from Buffalo, New York. Since I started traveling there with him many moons ago, I’ve been introduced to many culinary wonders that are specific to the Queen City. One of them is stuffed banana peppers.
While the internet abounds with recipes that encourage you to stuff banana peppers with buffalo chicken dip (no shame in that; sounds delicious), banana peppers in Buffalo don’t include buffalo wing sauce at all. In Buffalo, ordering “banana peppers” off the appetizer section of a menu is going to result in you receiving a plate with several hot, stuffed, oozing, cheesy peppers.
Stuffing peppers is of course not novel and was not invented in Buffalo, but chef Andrew DiVincenzo, who died in 2004, put his own spin on stuffing banana peppers and popularized the dish at his now-closed Buffalo restaurant, Billy Ogden’s. Since then, it’s been copied time and time again.
In 2016, Buffalo Spree asked chef Christopher Daigler, who worked with DiVincenzo, to recreate DiVincenzo’s original dish. The resulting recipe included a whole lot of cheese (cream cheese, mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, mascarpone, and gorgonzola), as well as anchovy paste. Will I be making this at home? Yes, yes I will. You should, too. And next time you’re in Buffalo, order some banana peppers at a restaurant.
Fried banana peppers
In southern states, banana peppers are fried after being breaded in cornmeal and saltines. Saltines reportedly make all the difference. According to the notes at the top of this food.com recipe:
“This recipe comes from my long time friend, Tracy. I really can not believe she shared it with me.....all this time, I thought she cast some magic spell over the frying pan to make them taste so good! Turns out it was just the saltine crackers! The mystery is over…”
I’m disappointed Tracy doesn’t have a magic spell on her frying pan, but am also relieved that I can apparently access the magic in the cracker aisle of my local grocery store. According to the same recipe, the coating for these peppers isn’t so much a batter as it is a light and crispy (and apparently magical) coating. Fry them up fresh or pickled, whichever you prefer.
Other ways to use banana peppers
There are plenty of other ways to use banana peppers, too, as this article from How Stuff Works illustrates. They make a great pizza topping or salad ingredient, and they can take the place of other peppers in recipes like hot pepper jelly—the possibilities are really endless.
What about you? Do you have a favorite way to use banana peppers?