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Friday, October 22, 2010

Feel the Burn

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 4:14 PM

click to enlarge Hot right now: Thai chiles. - SEAN TIMBERLAKE
  • Sean Timberlake
  • Hot right now: Thai chiles.

Indian summer's come and gone, but it's not too late to capture a piece of the season's heat in a jar. Hot peppers are still lingering at the markets. Some of the more exotic varieties have passed, but common peppers like Thai chilies, pictured, are still available. And of course our friend the jalapeño is fairly abundant; at Wednesday's Heart of the City market, there were piles of them for 75 cents a pound.


The piquancy of chile peppers varies hugely, not only dependent on the type of pepper, but even varying within each variety. The heat is caused by the presence of capsaicin, a chemical that irritates nerve endings. The more capsaicin in a pepper, the hotter it will be. The amount of capsaicin is measured in Scoville heat units (SHU). Comparatively mild chiles like jalapeños rate between 2,500 and 8,000 SHU. Thai chiles can be 10 to 20 times as hot. Habaneros, among the hottest you're likely to see at the markets here (and happily present in the last Mariquita mystery box, can rate as high as 350,000 SHU. That hurts.


But if you're a pepperhead like me, it hurts so good. Rare is the meal I don't add chile peppers to in some form, even if in middling amounts, just to get a little kick. And chiles are excellent for preserving, both as the star ingredient and as supporting player.

If you want to preserve just plain old, straight-up jalapeños, it's easy peasy, as David Lebovitz illustrates. Or, mix them with other veggies for the classic escabeche , a must at any Mexican table. Amy took advantage of her Mariquita mystery box habaneros to punch up a batch of pickled carrots.

Sugar tempers hot peppers, making sweet applications surprisingly pleasing. Elise's jalapeño bread and butter pickles are exemplary. Some lovely honeyed garlic jalapeño pickles would also do nicely.

The sweet-hot synergy shines when peppers play with fruit. This is most common in chutneys, but peppers also complement apples in jelly or grapes in jam.

Other resources:

Kaela at Local Kitchen is hosting this month's Tigress' Can Jam, focusing on hot peppers. She's already proffered recipes for apple jalapeño preserves and charred chile barbecue sauce.

The hot pepper recipes keep popping at Punk Domestics.

Sean Timberlake is the founder of Punk Domestics, a content and community site for DIY food enthusiasts.

Follow SFoodie on Twitter: @sfoodie.

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Sean Timberlake


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