Monday, 10 October 2011

Capsicum




My only childhood memory of chilli peppers is as a torture instrument in the hands of my older sister. For some strange reason someone in my family had got hold of a capsaicin rich pepper (unknown to all irish people in the late 70's) and how it got into the hands of my oldest sibling still concerns me. My parents had left for their annual golf dinner or captain's night and we were left in the hands of my sadistic kin who rubbed our bare gums with the offending berry to punish us for existing. Despite the oral burns, endorphins popping and premature heart attacks, we all learned something useful that evening; butter can calm the pain that water cannot! 

Normally I can get chillies to grow hot, but this year, they are all languishing in middle-hot stage and I don't have a clue why. The sun has shone, production was good but the capsaicin is just not there. 
Capsaicin and capsaicinoids give chilli peppers their intensity and is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU). A sweet pepper weighs in at 0 SHU while a habaneros can reach 300,000 SHU.



My hot chillies will just have to replace the sweet ones and my very hot will become the hot ones and there will be no very very hot.





I seed them out with the aubergines in January in the kitchen, exposed to a constant ray of sunshine. Once they are germinated, into the greenhouse they go and loiter there, growing slowly but surely until May when they are introduced to the big wild world. Not much to do but protect them from the slugs until the leaves are tough enough to withstand even the rambling chickens and then throughout the summer, a weekly feed of diluted seaweed tea  makes them sturdy and strong.
Despite the childhood nightmares, I do love chillies and the proof is that this year I have cultivated 9 different varieties from hot to hotter to nearly hottest and from today onwards, you can find garlands of them hindering any cooking on my Aga as they dry out slowly in preparation for he cold winter months.




The alma paprika is not for drying but for immediate use, to replace the sweet peppers I never grow. Not only is their flesh crispy and juicy but as the skin matures from yellow to orange to red, the peppers  develop a soft, spicy-apple taste that is delicious raw in a salad and good enough to eat like a fruit directly from the tree.


The Bresse chilli is a french classic, as classic as the local Espelette, but with a little more bounce.


Then theres the Black Hungarian with its delicate violet flowers and sublimely shaped and coloured fruit. The flesh is crunchy but more ornamental than appetising...


The Conchiti is what you can start calling hot. On the scoville index it can reach 5000 units but I think that this year, mine are well under such measurement.... but this is the one I rub over a slice of hot toast and use to make harissa without burning up my local dinner guests.


Then theres the Mexican Negro which isn't turning negro and isn't very hot even though its supposed to be. I was advised to leave it dry on the plant but the wild birds and chickens (they are not sensitive to capsaicin) love them just like this and have eaten whatever is within their reach so I'm trying to dry them inside as green as they are...


Jamaican Hot Red are perhaps the best of this year. Shaped like a pattypan squash and so charming to look at, but they can still can burn a gum or two and taste good in the meantime.


Szentezi are sizzling and spicy and taste like hot peaches. They will be dried and ground into paprika...


Fire is like something your grandmother will buy mixed into a supermarket flower bouquet  but little do all those grandmothers know that this is a chilli to burn your socks off. Mine will not burn anybodies socks off but they are the perfect size and heat to use dried in pasta and ragouts.




The hotter the climate, the more pungent the chilli. I'm drying most of them for later use in sauces and soups. The small ones will be cooked whole in a goulash or even a curry. The thicker fleshed varieties are milder and its so easy to remove their seeds to ensure their flavour is more mellow. They just need to be cut lengthwise and scraped out, then chopped or sliced. Mixed with a simple olive oil they make a perfect sauce. Even when green, they make an ideal sauch mixed with herbs, lemon juice and olive oil to enhance a flavour of any dish. The best is just to add a crushed, dried chilli to a pan of softened garlic, toss for a moment or two and pour over grilled vegetables or meat....


Chilli Chutney

makes about 500g

23 hot red chillies (its what I used)
2 sweet red peppers
olive oil
3 medium red onions chopped
A sprig of Rosemary
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
40g raisins
2tbs brown sugar
130ml balsamic vinegar

I made this chutney today without gloves (because I don't have any) and burnt my eyes out because I forgot what I had being doing 10 minute beforehand. Now I can hardly see; so my advice is buy some gloves.....
Prepare a half litre sterilised jar. Place the chillies and pepper under a hot grill and turn them until the skin is blackened and blistered. Wrap in a tea cloth and leave 10 minutes until cool. Peel off as much of the skin as possible and chop finely.
Heat a thick bottomed saucepan and add 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add the onions and rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Leave to cook over a moderate heat until the onions are caramelised but not brown or burnt.
Add the chillies, peppers, vinegar, raisins and sugar and mix well. Cook over a moderate heat for 20 minutes or until the liquid has reduced and the chutney is thick and sticky. Season as you wish and remove the woody sprig of rosemary. Spoon into a sterilise jar and keep in a cool, dark place. It should keep for a couple of months if you can hold back.


2 comments:

  1. "Warm" compliments to the information and presentation in this posting, very handsomely photographed. I'm happy to say I discovered your blog through Ivan Terestchenko, and I am therefore not surprised by its excellence, but v grateful.

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