Buying and Storing
Black peppercorns, the dried small berries from the pepper plant, are available whole, cracked, or ground; for the freshest flavor, buy whole peppercorns, then crack or grind as needed. Stored in a cool, dark place, whole peppercorns will retain their flavor for at least a year.
Peppercorns can be used whole to add flavor to stocks as well as poaching liquids for chicken or fish.
To crack whole peppercorns, spread in a skillet, then press firmly with another skillet; or place in a plastic bag, rest on a work surface, and lightly pound with a rolling pin. Since it has more texture and flavor than when ground, cracked pepper is used to coat steaks and fish (tuna or salmon) before cooking.
If making your own, keep peppercorns in a sealed container until ready to grind in a pepper mill. Keep in mind that the coarser the grain, the stronger the taste.