Tuesdays Tasty Tip with Chef David Hall

Hot, Hotter and Hottest – Baby Light My (mouth on) Fire

A few weeks ago, my Tuesday Tasty Tip article was about the use of pepper. In that context, I referred to the common black pepper found on almost every table in America, made from peppercorns. Last week I wrote about chili powder, which is actually a blend of ground chilies and other seasonings. To add a little confusion to the mix, this week’s article is on chili peppers.

Let me add a point of clarification in order to minimize any confusion. In this week’s TTT, when I use the term “pepper,” I am NOT referring to the peppercorn fruit of a flowering vine in the family Piperaceae, usually dried and used as a spice and seasoning. I am instead referring to those pepper “fruits” harvested from pepper plants from the genus Capsicum, members of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. These include many varieties such as the mild green bell pepper and Poblanos to the extremely hot varieties like the Habanero. These peppers vary greatly in size, color, flavor, cost and heat. I will share a few of my favorites and how I like to use them.

We always have a variety of chilies available for use in our kitchen. Whether fresh or dried, there is always something you can do with chilies to add personality to a dish. One of the most recent notable uses for chilies is to combine them with some sweet, such as chocolate, fresh fruit and even ice cream. These combinations are what chefs refer to as complementary contrasts. They can be fun and interesting, like my sweet and spicy roasted pecans I sometimes use in salads.

Most chili peppers come from the capsicum family of plant, known for the chemical capsaicin, a chemical that can produce a strong fiery sensation in the mouth of the unsuspecting palate. The amount of “heat,” known as “piquant” in culinary circles, is measured using either the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) scale or the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA) pungency units scale. Regardless of the measurement system used, the common bell pepper is regarded as the mildest pepper having an SHU equal to 1, while the naga jolokia and its cultivars, the “Dorset naga” and the “Ghost chili,” are well over 1,000,000 (yes million) SHUs. These three fiery chilies have been crossed to breed a chili called the “Viper” chili, topping the scale above 1,300,000. There is something about putting a pepper named “Viper” in my mouth that says, “Don’t do this, even on a dare with a few belts of bourbon already consumed.” These chilies burn twice!

Capsaicin/capsicum is known to have some medicinal properties and benefits. Those cultures consuming a great proportion of chilies are known to have fewer heart/circulatory problems as well as lower incidences of inflammatory conditions. Listed below are a few known benefits of capsaicin use in medicines.

· Cleans the arteries as well, helping to rid the body of the bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

· To relieve the pain of peripheral neuropathy such as post-herpetic neuralgia caused by shingles.

· Temporary relief of minor aches and pains of muscles and joints associated with arthritis, simple backache, strains and sprains.

· Treat psoriasis as an effective way to reduce itching and inflammation.

· The American Association for Cancer Research reports studies suggesting capsaicin is able to kill prostate cancer cells by causing them to undergo apoptosis.

· Cayenne pepper is regarded as the #1 anti-cancer food.

· It is a natural expectorant and can be used to clear the lungs of mucus.

· There is some evidence that capsaicin may help treat heartburn and circulatory problems such as heart disease from atherosclerosis or plaque that block the arteries to the heart.

For more health information, check out http://www.cayennepepper.info/health-benefits-of-cayenne-pepper.html

Chili peppers are found in many cuisines, including African, Mexican, Asian, Italian, Mediterranean and Central/South American. Having grown up in Arizona, my introduction to hot peppers came at a young age. Interestingly, there are more Asian restaurants in Phoenix than there are Mexican restaurants. Thankfully, both use a variety peppers, but in very different ways. Since I cook frequently in both of these cuisines, I will share with you some of my favorites, and how I use them in the table below.

SHU

Common Name

Chef David’s Use(s)

1

Bell Pepper

Stuffed with seasoned ground pork and beef. I prefer using the red and yellow varieties as they have a sweeter flavor. Fajitas.

100 – 500

Pepperocini

Great on sandwiches, and make a great wine butter sauce.

500 – 2,500

Poblano, Pasilla

Great for stuffing if fresh and green. If red and dried, serve as a base for my red enchilada sauce. Mild but flavorful.

2,500 – 8,000

Jalapeño

Salsas, guacamole and when harvested red and then smoked, become my chipotle. Medium heat, with a strong ‘green’ flavor.

3,500 – 8,000

Yellow Chili

Also Santa Fe Grand, range from sweet to medium hot. I steam these in the microware, make a paste out of them and add them to potato salad, tuna salad or chicken salad. It adds heat but does not change the flavor profile.

10,000 – 23,000

Serrano

Used in my cilantro-Serrano hummus, as well as in my guacamole. Nice and spicy, but mild in flavor allowing other flavors to come forward.

30,000 – 50,000

Cayenne, Tabasco

Cayenne is used frequently in my dry rubs. The Tabasco pepper sauce I use on eggs, as well as in soups to make things interesting.

50,000 to 100,000

Bird’s Eye (Thai chili pepper)

Used in many of my Thai dishes. I also, like the pickled versions on my occasional hot dog. I use them in my version of a hot and sour soup.

50,000 to 100,00-

Chili Tepin

These little balls of fire make the best taco sauce. Tomato sauce, garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper, oregano and the mighty but little Tepin and you have a party in your mouth. This sauce is one of my Boot Camp students’ favorites. Do NOT handle these without gloves.

100,000 to 350,000

Habanero

Extremely HOT!! It has a very nutty and rich flavor. One of these little guys goes a long way in my jerked chicken or pork. A little goes a long way. Use gloves when mincing by hand.

350,000 to 580,000

Red Savanna Habanero

Tried one once and will not do it again.

855,000–1,359,000

Viper

I told you, I don’t put anything named “Viper” in my mouth. The term alone is a warning. I won’t be trying this pepper!

500,000 to 2,000,000

Law Enforcement Grade Pepper Spray

Chemical weapon designed to make grown men cry. Not for consumption. Duh.

Warning: Capsicum/Capsaicin is not water-soluble. Use gloves when handling the hotter specimens. Simply washing your hands after handling will NOT remove it from the follicles in your skin. Try rubbing your eyes a couple hours after handling Tepins and you will thoroughly understand that those itty bitty tiny Tepins pack a big punch, even hours later.

Looking at the table above, one might ask, “Why such large ranges of heat for a given pepper?” The amount of heat is determined by several different factors, including harvest time and temperature, soil conditions and watering schedule. I have used Serrano chilies that were milder than Jalapeños, and when I purchased Serranos the next week from the same grocer, they lit me up. Same variety, but significantly different amount of piquant, or heat. Be sure to taste your peppers BEFORE they go into your dishes. You may have to make adjustments in the amount you use.

Here is a great Thai Salad that will definitely wake up your mouth. It is quick and simple, but very tasty. It is my variation of a dish I learned at the Culinary Institute of America last November.

Spicy Thai Salad

Thai Chili Peppers

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons fish sauce

4 tablespoons lime juice

2 teaspoons brown sugar

4 -6 Thai chilies, finely minced (I recommend starting with 4)

1 1/2 pounds salmon, tuna, or escolar fillet

Text Box: Thai Chili Peppers1 teaspoon olive oil

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 large tomato, chopped into ½ inch pieces

1 cup fresh basil (or Thai basil), chiffonade (cut into long, thin strips)

1 head Napa Cabbage, washed and finely shredded

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Prepare the dressing, combining the fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar and chopped chilies in a small bowl. Allow the dressing to “rest” for at least 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. Adjust flavors and heat as desired.

3. Rub the fish with olive oil and place on a baking tray.

4. Bake until easily flaked, about 20 minutes. If the fillet has a thin tapered tip, fold the tip under so all the fillet will be about the same thickness when cooking. Otherwise, the thinnest part of the fillet will be overcooked.

5. Allow to cool for a minimum of 20 minutes.

6. Place fillet into a large bowl. Using a fork to break salmon meat into big one inch chunks.

7. Add onion, tomato and basil; pour dressing over, and toss lightly until well mixed.

8. Place mixture on lettuce leaves, and serve immediately.

Venture out and try something new. Munch on a chili pepper, but don’t come crying to me.

Blessings,

Chef David Hall, CGC

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