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...

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