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Originally published Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 10:01 PM

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Danger lurks between peppers sweet and hot

A Good Appetite: It can be risky cooking with peppers that are neither hot nor sweet — your dinner could end up mellow or leave you in need of a fire extinguisher. Recipe: Swordfish with Sweet and Hot Peppers

The New York Times

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There are sweet peppers; there are hot peppers; and then there are those peppers that fall somewhere in between. They are the Russian roulette of peppers, the kinds that you can never be quite sure about until you take a bite.

That list is long, and it includes pale green banana peppers, round and shiny cherry peppers, glossy dark green poblanos, yellow-hued Hungarian wax peppers. It can be risky cooking with them: Your dinner could end up sweet and mellow or quick-pass-the-fire-extinguisher incendiary.

Usually what I do is use a wide mix of these types of peppers and hope that the dish comes out on the edible side of the Scoville scale.

It doesn't always work.

Last year, I sauteed a heap of different peppers, then used them as a topping for meaty swordfish. Some bites were blissful and perfectly balanced. Some bites made me cough and gasp for air. The dish had potential.

So I decided to try it again this year as pepper season winds down.

I hedged my bets. Instead of taking a chance with the gorgeous but unknown peppers, I purposely mixed the reliably sweet (bell peppers, cubanelles, peperoncini) with the reliably fiery (Serranos, chili de arbol, Scotch bonnets).

Then I worked their extremes. I sauteed the sweet peppers slowly with onions to intensify their gentle honeyed character. And I left half of the hot chilis raw, sharp and biting to create as much contrast as possible. Eaten altogether, each bite was both hot and sweet, pungent from a touch of garlic, tart from a squeeze of lemon and faintly saline from the swordfish. But if you'd rather take your chances on questionable peppers, here's a tip: Slice the peppers open and give them a lick to see how hot they are. If they are on the mild side, use them straight, adding some hot chili at the end. If they make you cry, cut their fierceness by adding a few bell peppers to the pan.

You could also substitute another meaty, rich fish for the swordfish. Albacore tuna, mahi mahi, cod, halibut or even thick chunks of salmon would work, though you might have to alter the cooking time. Watch carefully, and when the fish turns opaque, start testing it and don't stop until it's perfectly cooked. After all, there's no point in taking risks when you don't have to.

SWORDFISH WITH SWEET AND HOT PEPPERS

Time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small white onion, thinly sliced

4 cups sliced sweet peppers (a mix of bell peppers, cubanelle and others, as many colors as possible)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1 ¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 ½ pounds swordfish, skin removed, cut into 1 ¼-inch chunks

2 to 3 fresh chili de arbol or other hot chili peppers, seeded if desired, and thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

Lemon juice, as needed

Chopped cilantro, as needed

1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add oil and let warm for 1 minute. Add onion and cook, tossing occasionally, until soft and golden brown, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in sweet peppers and oregano; cook until very soft, about 10 minutes. Season with ¼ teaspoon each salt and pepper.

Scrape vegetables into a bowl.

2. Melt butter in skillet. While butter melts, toss fish with remaining salt and pepper. Add half the chili peppers to skillet and cook until soft, 1 minute. Add garlic to skillet and stir quickly to coat with butter. Add fish and reduce heat to medium-low; cook gently until fish is just opaque, about 5 minutes. Return sweet peppers to pan and toss well. Sprinkle with remaining chili peppers and top with a squeeze of lemon and cilantro.

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