If You Can Stand the Heat

2nd February, 2010: Posted by G.L. Pease in Chiliheads, easy

I’m no master gardener, but everyone knows I love chiles, and the variety available in the markets is usually somewhat spare, so I try, each year, to grow some interesting ones with the hopes of enjoying them fresh during the summer, and having enough by the end of the season to put up for use throughout the year. Last year, I had Habaneros (always a fave), Caribbean Reds, Infernos, Thai Dragons, Tabascos, Cayennes, and Yatsufusa chiles growing, and no doubt keeping the bugs away. They didn’t produce with the vigor of previous years, but offered some interesting fruit to tantalize (or torment) the tastes of the adventurous.

One day, I picked the first of the Infernos, a lovely hot yellow hybrid of a Hungarian Wax. These 8″ fruit have a delightful sweetness up front, and a cunning afterburn. Having a large papaya in the kitchen, ripe, but not flavorful enough to enjoy solo, a fruit salsa seemed a perfect use for both.

I gathered a few more ingredients, including a ripe orange Habanero, a small Caribbean Red, a pointy, green Yatsufusa, all from the garden. Onions, garlic, limes, green coriander (cilantro) were added to the palette. The chilies were chosen not just for their heat, but for their specific and unique flavors. The Habanero and the Caribbean red are from the same family, both cultivars of the C. chinense species, and both have a beautiful, floral, fruity taste, with an alluring, somewhat delayed fire that isn’t quite as lingering as some. The Caribbean Red, similar to the Red Savina, is hotter than the nearly nuclear Habanero – weighing in at about  450kSU (thousand Scoville Units), vs the hab’s diminutive 250kSU – but at just over 1cm in diameter, I figured I could handle this one. The Yatsufusa, a traditional Japanese variety that has both ornamental and culinary value, is quite forward with its somewhat more subdued fire, and has a verdant, almost Jalapeño-like flavor, only more-so. This combination of chilies would create a broader spectrum of both flavor and spice intensity than any single one could, and the mélange should play well with the sweetness of the papaya and the acidity of the lime. The surprise factor of the two C. chinense’s delayed retro-rockets would be an added bonus.

For the intrepid amongst you, here’s what I put together:

  • 1 large papaya, diced to 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 medium onion, diced fine
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, gently smashed, and minced
  • 1/4 Cup green coriander (cilantro), chopped
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1t salt

In a large bowl, toss the fruit, cilantro, onion and garlic with the lime juice and olive oil. Add salt, and set aside.

  • 1 ripe yellow Inferno chile
  • 1 small Caribbean Red chile
  • 1 green Yatsufusa chile
  • 1 Orange Habanero chile (use 1/2 if you can’t stand the heat)

Wearing rubber gloves (seriously – these things can cause painful blisters if not handled with some care), remove the seeds and placenta from the chilies. and mince the flesh. Wash knives and cutting boards with plenty of soap and COLD water. Hot water will volatilize the capsaicin and breathing the vapors can be a painful eye-opener.

Since the heat of individual peppers can vary widely, add them gradually, incorporating well, and giving the salsa a few minutes to begin taking up the flavors before evaluating the heat. Consider that the heat will build over time, so stop BEFORE it’s too much for you.

Finally, add additional lime juice and salt to taste, and store in the refrigerator for at least an hour. This stuff makes a wonderful accompaniment to grilled fish, or on bruschetta for an incendiary little amuse bouche. Be a good sport, though, and warn your guests, and have plenty of tequila handy to extinguish the blaze if it gets to be too much.

(For something of a cautionary tale about just how far some idiots, that would be me, are willing to go for an E-ticket ride on the Chile Pepper Express, read the article, Too Hot To Handle.)


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