Friday, March 27, 2009

A bit too hot

Here's one of the silliest things I grow in my kitchen garden – habanero chillies. Why silliest? Well, I don't use them in cooking – they're too hot – and so I just grow them because I like the look of them. I've always been a sucker for apricot coloured things.

A few years ago Habanero chillies were famous for being the world's hottest, rating 10 points out of 10 on the heat scale, but in recent years this crown has been forfeited to various other, infinitely – no, make that insanely – hotter chillies. But the new heat champions are tiny, mean vicious little runts, not remotely as aristocratic in form as a beautiful apricot habanero.

Someone ought to perfect a way of turning habaneros into earrings.

I tried, dutifully, for a couple of years to find a way to enjoy habaneros in my cooking, but to my taste buds they are not only too viciously hot but also somehow sweetish, not all that pleasant as a flavour or a source of heat. I cannot understand those masochistic westerners who get their jollies eating burning hot food every now and then at curry houses, although I do understand how people from South-East Asia and other countries who eat intensely hot food daily can become so accustomed to chillies that they hardly notice the heat. While I love spices and herbs and use them almost daily, I've never been a fan of intense heat in food, and so I prefer to use milder chillies such as Jalapenos (5 on the 10 pt scale) and Serranos (7 on the scale).

A while ago a cookery writer told me about her husband, Asian-born and a lover of chillies. He finds most restaurant food here too bland, so he often brings one or two chillies with him (plus a pen-knife) when he eats out, so he can slice raw chilli over his meal to bring the heat up to an acceptable level. One evening they harvested some home-grown habaneros, and so he took them with him to try them out. Unfortunately for him, the habaneros must have been zingers, and he ended up gulping water, coughing, with his eyes burning brightly, sweat flooding his brow. While suitably appropriate sounds of sympathy and concern emanated from his other dining companions, the glances flashing between them were of mirth.
Beware the pretty habanero. It might be a de-throned prince of the burning fires, but it can still fell the unwary!


prue said...

They look great! I am planning on planting a white Habanero next spring, not as pretty as the apricot coloured ones, but probably as hot. If you ever work out how to cook with them without burning the roof of your mouth off let me know!

Melanie said...

Those are beautiful peppers! Though I do find it amusing that you do not use them; what do you do with them once they are ripe?

Kenneth Moore said...

Heh, I'm one of those crazy Westerners... But in my defense, I grew up in a really diverse area--everyone from Asia and Mexico comes here and I grew up eating all of their food. I moved to Nova Scotia and then Germany and I used their "Death 911 OMG HOT" sauces almost like ketchup... Now that I'm back "home," however, I have to be careful with that. When we say "spicy," it often truly is!

I'm growing some Aurora peppers (7 on the scale, I think). Have you tried these? I'm curious how they taste, I don't think I can wait a few months for them to be mature!

Jamie said...

No, there's no way to use them in cooking without getting burned. And you need to wash up very, very thoroughly after handling them, too!

I have some crazy westerner friends who love hot food, so they get all the habaneros they want (which is not many, funnily enough).

I also turn any excess chillies into an organic garden spray for pests. Here's the recipe:
• 4 onions, chopped
• 4 or more hot chillies, chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, chopped
• 2 litres water
Boil the chopped onions, chillies and garlic in the water for 15 minutes. Let the liquid cool overnight, then strain into a jar and add 2 tablespoons liquid soap. This makes your concentrate. To use as a spray, mix 10mL of concentrate in 1 litre water, add to a spray bottle and use to control aphids, whitefly, bronze orange bugs and other insect pests. You'll need to use this spray often, as it washes off in rain and breaks down in prolonged sunshine, but it works OK if you stay on the case.

You crazy westerner! I have friends just like you! No, I haven't tried the Auroras, but a 7 rating is much easier to cook with, so they sound good.

Green thumb said...

Coming from South Asia - the original curry world - I obviously have been brought up on a diet rich in 'heat'. I think I can try those gorgeous looking Habaneros without doing any serious damage to my taste buds or sanity, but they are just too good looking to be sliced and added to cuisine.

Chandramouli S said...

Yummmm! How I'd love to add them to my curry! So enticing!