Just look at those pretty little pods. Who would think that one little nibble would set your mouth on fire! These are my Thai peppers that were picked off of a bush grown in my container garden.
Chillies are a great plant to grow in Key West as our climate is like a hot house! But actually these little bombs like the weather to be a bit cooler when they start out. I planted these peppers in January and February when the humidity slacks off a bit and we get a few cool nights, like down in the 60's and 70's.
I also grow cayenne peppers. The ones in the photo have been dried. I use my chili peppers in alot of dishes that I cook as Mike like his food very spicy. I use my peppers fresh and dried.
Chillies, also called chili peppers, can vary in size, shape, color and most of all in taste. The taste can be from very mild to extremely hot. Most chili peppers you see are long, thin, and pointed as you can see in the cayenne's, but like the Thai's, they can come in many shapes. Chillies are hot because, as we all know, they contain capsaicin. Capsaicin, an irritant alkaloid is found mainly in the interior tissue to which the seeds adhere. Capsaicin has at least 5 separate chemical components; three give us an immediate sensation in the throat and at the back of the palate, the other two a slower, longer-lasting, less fierce hotness on the tongue and mid-palate. I find it amazing that, even though each chili is rated on an average hotness, the peppers from the same bush can vary greatly in their capsaicin content. Take for instance on my cayenne plant, I can add one whole pepper to a dish and that dish be very spicy. I can pick another pepper from the same bush, add it to a dish and the food seems to be too mild and I have to add a second pepper.
Cooks use chili for flavour, not merely for hotness. However, people accustomed to chili do like the heat, and as they become inured to it they need more and more to generate the same sensation in the mouth. Therefore when cooking Mexican or S. Indian dishes for people whose mouths are not so hardened, it is important to use much less than the "authentic" amount of chili in order to produce an "authentic" effect. Even folks who have never tasted chili peppers will usually agree that when they encounter them for the first time in a mild form, where the flavor is subtle, its gentle warmth stimulates not only the taste buds, but appetite and digestion also. So if you are new to chillies, go easy and build up your taste for them. They really add a spark to your dishes.
One of my favorite recipes to use chillies in is my Fish Stew.
1 lb. of fresh shrimp, shelled and devained
1 lb. of a mild white firm fish - I use mahi-mahi as it is firm enough to hold it's shape in the stew while cooking. Cut the fish into bite size pieces.
1 onion chopped
4-5 cloves of garlic chopped - use more or less to you taste
1 can of chopped tomatoes with their juice
1 8 oz. bottle of clam juice
1 cup of white wine
2 heaping tablespoons of tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 fresh cayenne pepper chopped or you could use dried pepper flakes if you do not have a fresh pepper. You just want enough heat to give it some personality!
Cook your onions, garlic and pepper in some olive oil over medium heat until the onions are tender. Add your tomatoes, clam juice, wine, half of your parsley and tomato paste. Cook over medium high heat until your sauce is slightly reduced and a bit thick.
At this time I add my shrimp and fish and give it a slight stir. Simmer until your fish is opaque in the center. I would say about 10 minutes. When you serve the stew, sprinkle the rest of the parsley on the dish.
This is a very simple stew with loads of flavor. Sometimes I fix the sauce early during the day and then add the fish later when we are ready for dinner. A nice crusty bread and a small salad make the meal complete. I usually serve a nice full bodied white wine with this dish. One that will stand up with the tomatoes and heat from the peppers. I would suggest a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. Enjoy!
Holler, this post is dedicated to you! Keep cookin' with those peppers!