While strolling through the Grower’s Market of Fuquay Varina, NC I always enjoy seeing what is in season. What is fresh, locally grown and food with a story to tell? I recently noticed an array of brightly colored vibrant chilies available at the various vendors’ stalls. They included serrano, tabasco, jalapeno, Hungarian wax and Anaheim varieties. Wow, what a selection! There was hot, very hot, and extremely hot. The next question to be answered is what to do with these piquant berries?
Chilies are the fruit of plants of the genus Capsicum a member of the night shade group; which includes eggplant, tomato and sweet bell pepper. The spiciness of a chili pepper is determined by Scoville units. Scoville units are a measurement of the capsicum extract by the dilution of in sugar water, until no more heat can be detected. Sweet bell pepper has a Scoville rating of zero while a habanero has a rating of 250,000; that’s a lot of sugar water. For more information and a picture of the Scoville scale go to eatmorechiles.com .
Heat level is a matter of personal taste. What is hot for someone may not be hot to another. This difference in heat can cause some special problems when cooking and handling chilies. Do not be deterred, be sure and experience chilies as they are a complex ingredient that brings food to life. Chilies come in all shapes, sizes, and heat levels. Here are a few tips that will keep your food palatable and your skin and eyes from irritation.
1. Wear plastic gloves when handling chilies
2. Remove seeds and veins to mellow out the heat; most of the heat is in the white veins
3. When chili is sliced in half lengthwise use a melon-baller or toothed grapefruit spoon to scoop out seeds as well as white membranes.
4. Make sure you wash your hands and fingernails with soap, water and a brush.
5. As the oils from chilies can adhere to the knife, cutting board and bowls; be sure and clean carefully and thoroughly.
6. To soothe hands irritated by handling hot chilies; make a paste of baking soda and water. Rub over your hands and rinse with cold water.
7. To preserve fresh chilies, rinse well and put in a glass jar filled with vinegar. They will keep a long time in the refrigerator.
8. Use the proper chilies for the job. Check out the Scoville scale; if in doubt select a chili that is lower on the scale.
9. To select the freshest, look for chilies with vibrant color and taut skin. Avoid chilies with blemishes or soft spots. Color is an indication of ripeness.
10. When cooking with chilies there are a few ways to fix some overly spicy food: add a dairy product or add some sugar to help cut the heat. You can also throw in chunks of raw potato to help absorb some of the capsaicin. If the dish is so hot that none of these options work, make a second batch with no chilies and combine it with the first batch to reduce the heat profile.