Sunny Anderson's Favorite Powerhouse Secret Ingredient

Chef Sunny Anderson, star of Food Network's combined cooking and talk show, "The Kitchen," certainly doesn't shy away from sharing her love of spicy food. She's published recipes for spicy chicken sandwiches and macaroni and cheese seasoned with cayenne pepper. In the kitchen, she likes to add a little heat to her dishes with a scoop of sambal olek chili paste or a sprinkle of fried jalapeños on top of casseroles.

One other spicy ingredient that the chef always keeps in her fridge to add a little heat to her dishes is DIY pickled jalapeños. She revealed to Food Network she uses the peppers "to add zip, heat, and sweet to so much," such as salads and mashed potatoes.

To make a batch of Anderson's secret ingredient, slice up jalapeños and add boiling vinegar and seasonings into a canning jar. Then, allow the peppers to cool in the fridge for about an hour, and be sure to eat them within three to four weeks. The pickling process can change both the flavor and texture of the peppers, ultimately enhancing any dish they're added to; and, in addition to the standard spicy taste, the jalapeños also absorb the flavors of anything they're pickled in so you can get creative!

Fresh vs. pickled jalapeños

There are a few major differences between fresh and pickled jalapeños like the ones Sunny Anderson makes. Texture-wise, pickling can make the peppers just a little bit softer. While fresh jalapeños have a crisp, crunchy texture, the pickled variety softens slightly in the brine. If your pickling is done properly, however, your peppers will retain a nice, crunchy bite, even after soaking in the liquid.

The heat of a fresh jalapeño ranges from 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale, but the pickling process can dull the heat — particularly if the seeds and pith are scraped out, which will cut the spice out of the peppers. While the intensity of fresh picks will determine the heat level of the pickled product, you can always bank on the pickled counterparts to be a little milder, but still comparable.

Despite their slight flavor and texture differences, pickled jalapeños can generally be used in the same way that fresh peppers are utilized — though it's important to note they're a little more acidic than the fresh variety, since they absorb the brine. So while they can be used interchangeably, they may bring a slightly different flavor note to your food.

How Sunny uses pickled peppers

Sunny Anderson has said that her dinner guests are always excited to find out what the added spicy flavor is in her dishes. Though the pickled jalapeños can be added into more typical fare like tacos or burgers, she also uses them to spice up quite a few other meals. When preparing a plate of deviled eggs, for example, Anderson recommends mixing chopped pickled jalapeños in with the yolk and mayonnaise mix (or sour cream as a swap for mayonnaise-free deviled eggs). Finely dicing the peppers ensures that every bite is evenly spiced.

While butter and gravy may be the most common mashed potato toppings, Anderson likes to change things up a little by mixing her jalapeños in. Simply mincing and folding the peppers into the mash can make for a zestier, more exciting bite; or, mash them up and mix them right in with the potatoes for a more evenly dispersed flavor.

Anderson also recommends adding some zing to salad dressings by chopping the peppers up into fine pieces and mixing them into oil and vinegar bases. Or, if you prefer things a little smoother, you can use up some of the pickling liquid to add flavor without the texture. The celebrity chef has also shared that she uses the brine from the jar to add extra flavor to liquid-heavy recipes, adding it in just before serving chilis and soups.