Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chilli or Chili (or Chile even)!

There's one thing that gets me really excited in the food realm, and that's chillies (Can you tell from my blog background?). I'm not sure whether its the risk that comes with the burning from them, and how that can go from underwhelming to completely destructive, or maybe it's the jewel-like beauty of the plants when the fruits start to grow and ripen. It could even be the instant endorphin rush that comes with the fiery burning taste. And I really love the fact that the sensation of burning is illusory; that our senses are being toyed with by nature's chemical warfare.

Whatever it is, I'm doubly indebted, on an annual basis to LW, who is so good at growing chillies. Doubly, because she hates the heat from chillies. The plants need a long season and plenty of sunshine and heat, and this year (and last year) we have had both. I'm very excited about the sauces I will make from the fresh crop this season, but meanwhile, as the ones in the garden start to ripen, I have taken down the lovely strands of dried chillis from last year that have been waiting patiently for me in the pantry, and made some jars of chilli salt.
some of the dried chillies

The recipe could not be easier: take the whole dried chillies, put them in a spice grinder (we use a coffee grinder - but not the one we use for coffee)
ready for grinding

and pulverise until finely powdered - seeds and all. Then add some salt to preserve, desiccate and season, and, if warranted, a little sugar too. And then put in a well-sealed dry jar. And that's it!
the condiment is ready

A couple of observations: the dust gets very fine, and airborne. Some coughing, sneezing, choking and rolling on the floor in agonizing, but illusory, pain is inevitable. Breathing apparatus, goggles, and a 20 micron charcoal reticulation filter in a fume chamber will keep this to a minimum.

But the result is worth it; the salt is brilliant for all kinds of things; a rub for roasts, seasoning for all kinds of spicy dishes; a tiny pinch with some cubes of cheese; mixed into a batter to coat squid for frying; baked potatoes a la masochisme; swahili tadpoles; the list is elsewhere.

And finally, when we were at the Waimamaku wild west festival yesterday, I scored a Bhut Jolokia chilli. (I am indebted to Clint from Fire Dragon Chillies for that!) For a while, this fruit was regarded as the hottest chilli in the world. I say for a while because the title is controversial, and growers seem to breed increasingly hot chillis every year. But it's hot enough. About 4 times hotter than a habanero (my all-time favourite). This one is going to provide me seeds for next year (all being well) and I may well eat the flesh. I'll see if I can stand it! I'm not a macho "I can eat hotter chillies than you can" sort of person, but the taste from some of these very hot ones is beautiful, and the heat, as I say, generates an almost instantaneous endorphin rush. My favourite way of eating them is to soak the finely sliced flesh in light soy and a little rice vinegar for a few minutes, and then eat with some plain rice. I'll post the results.
my very own bhut jolokia!

Well, I just de-seeded and chopped the rather frightening and aromatic chilli, being careful (sharp knife and fork) not to cover my fingers in the juice from the flesh. It smelt amazingly pungent and sweet at the same time. I put the seeds to one side to dry and have marinaded the flesh in soy and vinegar as planned. It is delicious! It tastes almost smoked, with a tropical fruit sweetness reminiscent of mango, or pineapple. But, bloody hell it's hot, in a creeping, "will this stop getting hotter because I can no longer think" kind of way. The reduced brain activity must surely be a reflection of the endorphin rush, and lasts about 15 min, but it's now an hour later and my lips still burn if I lick them. I think I have never tasted a hotter fresh chilli, ever. I may also have a new favourite...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


It's that time of year that we go from famine to feast where tomatoes are concerned. Not that tomatoes are concerned about much.

I'm so proud of LW who's been slaving away in the veggie garden, tending the seeds she germinated, encouraging the seedlings, weeding, feeding and and pruning the swiftly-growing plants so that they crop well without falling over in the sub-tropical storms that pop up just when its time for the tomatoes to ripen. As a result, we have a beautiful crop of tomatoes, with a few amazing varieties represented here. The "Moneymaker" is the standard, and tastes good enough, and looks great, the "Beefsteak" is big and tasty, and the "Great White" (which is yellow) is great (but yellow), but the star is the "Brandywine"; a huge (as much a 500g per fruit) and ugly, split, odd, and misshapen as a tomato could get. But the flesh is a dense, almost watermelon texture, with few seeds, and the taste is that pure, old-fashioned sweet and tangy flavour that all tomatoes used to have until they started appearing in supermarkets with labels saying things like "grown for flavour" on them.
of course I removed any dodgy bits...

Naturally, they all ripen at the same time and the glut has to be used. And our favourite is passata. It could be made and put in jars, but we prefer to freeze ours and it keeps for a year, no problem.

Here's what I do: Gently sweat an onion and a few cloves of garlic. Deglaze the pan with white wine and some worcester sauce and add a few herbs. For this one I used dried "herbes de provence" and some salt
then add about 5 kilos of chopped tomato, and let it simmer in its own juices for about an hour. 
no really, I did.

well, you'd never know.

Once the tomatoes have softened and fallen apart, put the whole lot through a mouli, and then bag it up in 250ml portions for the freezer.

It makes a great pizza topping, or pasta sauce, or, as LW did, is the basis for a brilliant ketchup

Very useful stuff, and a great way of stretching out the tomato season all year round.

Chicken Satay Mk2

Hello again! I've been remiss on my posting, but now I'm back.

We had a few leftovers the other night; a garlicky chicken stock from a roast chicken, some pieces of cold roast chicken, and the usual selection of seasonal veggies; so it was time for another chicken satay. Especially as my thoughts have turned to the island of Bali, where LW and I and a couple of good friends from Melbourne are heading in August...

I cooked the rice in the garlic and chicken stock for a rice that was quite delicious, and a wee bit "Heinanese"

I made a salad by finely dicing the tomatoes and cucumber, and then adding some coarsely ground roast cashews. I added parsley (because the coriander has all gone to seed) and Vietnamese basil, & then dressed it with a combination of rice wine vinegar, fish sauce and olive oil.

The chicken was too friable to stay on skewers, so I shredded it and fried it until frispy in hot oil, and then added a satay sauce made from peanut butter and all the usual condiments. In the frying pan it instantly curdled and clung to the fried chicken like a shy toddler to it's mother's leg.

I then served it all up, and within a matter of minutes, it was gone, and all we had left was a delicious aftertaste.