When it comes to spice, everyone has their own unique preference, but don’t let that stop you add heat to your hotpot!
Whether yours is a fiery heat or a warm glow, there’ll be at least one type of chilli to suit your epicurean inclination. There are literally hundreds of varieties you can cook with and they differ, not only in terms of colour and heat, but also in form: from smoked to preserved, fresh or dried, ground or in flakes. We’ll tell you which is the best for your recipe, and the questions you need to ask to get it right.
ARE YOU GOING FOR HEAT OR FLAVOUR?
Whilst fresh chillies add their own unique flavour to a dish, if you’re looking for pure heat, a dried form is the way to go. Most regular chefs will have both powder and crushed chillies in the cupboard at home, but what’s the difference? Whilst flakes are made purely from crushed peppers, chilli powder is more of a seasoning; as well as containing crushed chillies, it is mixed with other spices, like cumin and onion powder. This blending controls the overall heat of the powder.
This Stir-Fried Ginger Beef Recipe adds thinly sliced red chillies upon serving to maximise on their fresh flavour, whilst adding heat to the dish.
HOW SPICY ARE WE TALKING?
The heat of chillies is measured using the Scoville Scale. Right at the bottom are standard sweet peppers, which score zero, and at the top is the Trinidad Scorpion, which scores over 1,000,000, and the effect of which has unsurprisingly been described as “quite nasty.” But what about the more standard peppers that are available in the supermarket? At the low end of the scale is the pimento, often used to stuff olives, with a rating of 100 – 900 on the scale. Commonly found on pizzas and the main ingredient in Tabasco, the Jalapeño scores from 2,500 – 5,000. The Bird’s Eye Chilli, often used in Thai and Keralan cooking, is a step up at 50,000 to 100, 000, and at the top end of the scale there’s the Scotch Bonnet, known in Guyana as ‘ball of fire’ and scoring up to 350,000 on the scale.
For a good, hot curry, check out this recipe for Beef Vindaloo with Saffron Rice.
WHEN TO ADD THE CHILLI?
It comes as no surprise that each chilli will have one heat when raw, and another when cooked. The chemical that creates the spice is called capsaicin, and when raw, it can create the unpleasant burning feeling on contact with the lips, tongue and even fingers. However, when cooked this reaction is replaced with the nice, overall heat sensation when eaten and swallowed. Therefore, adding fresh chillies and chilli powder at the start of the cooking process will allow the flavour to develop and the heat to diffuse.
We love this recipe for Steak Fajitas, and with three different types of chilli, they’re sizzling in more ways than one.