Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bring on the Heat, Part III

Jump to the first hot pepper post, and the second hot pepper post.

Here's the third and (maybe) final installment in the posting series about the hot and spicy peppers. I've been using hot peppers and things ever since I started cooking, and, while I don't know everything, I have picked up a few practical tips.  So, here are my tips for cooking with heat:

1 - Decide in advance what you’re shooting for.  Are you cooking what will be a 4-alarm chili, or do you just want to liven up a previously tame beef stew?  Just a little bit of heat will pick up a dish, often even without it being perceptibly “hot”.  On the other hand, sometimes you just want to scorch out your mouth.  In either case, decide beforehand rather than arrive there by accident or default.

2 - Start with less, and add as you go.  It’s easy to add more heat, but it’s impossible to take it out.  That’s why it’s best to go tame at first, and then build up, tasting along the way, until you get to where you want to be.  Because of the variations, you won’t be able to rely on a recipe.  “2 tsp chili powder” will not always be consistent.  It’s also best, if possible, to let the recipe cook and simmer a bit between each tasting.  That way the flavors have some time to blend in.

3 - Different peppers have unique flavors, as well as different amounts of heat.  Get to know them as much as you can.  I really like the flavor of cayenne, for example, but I’m not as fond of jalapeno.

4 - Much of the capsaicin is in the seeds and the core, so you can tame a chili significantly by cutting those away.  You can do a lot of adjusting that way, too.  For example, maybe one jalapeno is not enough, but two is too much.  Add one in, and core the second.

5 - Use gloves while handling chili, and don’t wipe your eyes. I have learned this one by sad experience.  You know the self-defence sprays, that you blast in an attacker’s face?  That’s chili extract. If you’re working with chilis, and you wipe your eyes with all that capsaicin oil on your fingers, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt.  Use gloves, and throw them away when you’re done.

Here’s one final bit on chilis:  A few years ago, I was at a roadside produce stand as fall approached.  They were selling lots of different things, but I found a big basket of serrano chilis.  I had this idea, so I bought a few pounds.  I brought them home and laid them out on a baking tray and dried them (make sure they are completely dry, with no moisture).  I broke off the stems and chewed them up in one of those little “Magic Bullet” blenders, where you invert the cup over the blade.  Presto, homemade chili powder.  In subsequent years, I’ve found that I like to blend different chilis together in that mix.  I’ll usually do some serranos, some jalapenos, and some anaheims.  Commercial chili powders will often include other things like garlic powder or oregano, but I prefer to add those into a dish separately.

If you do this, here are two tips:

1 - I tried it in my big tabletop Ninja blender, but it didn’t get the particles fine enough.  Once it got them chopped to a certain point, it just tossed the chunks around.  The smaller blender went faster and chopped finer, into a real powder.

2 - Breathe carefully or wear a surgical mask.  It will burn your nose and throat if you don’t.

I hope these blog entries have helped you get a better grasp on how to use heat and peppers in your dishes.  Don’t be afraid of them, but use them judiciously, and they’ll serve you well!

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.

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