How to become a chili cooking expert

HOT CHILI COOKING Every hot sauce contains a blend of several different chilis, dried chili powders and some sodium tossed in for good measure. It’s not always possible to cook with some of the hottest sauces. But it is possible to kick your cooking up a notch or three by using fresh hot chili peppers as key ingredients. That’s the secret to becoming a chili cooking expert.

It’s easy to become a chili cooking expert – here’s how
To become really good at cooking with chili and kick up your meals into spicy delights, you first need to know how to handle the stuff. ou also need to know what each chili tastes like and the heat the individual chili pods produce.

Personal experience is the only way you’ll ever know how a particular chili will affect your dishes.

Every chili differs in piquancy and heat
Every chili on Earth varies widely in shape, color, flavor, taste and pungency.Even within the same variety there are noticeable differences. That’s because chili peppers grow in outdoor environments, where variations of soil richness, mineral content, applied fertilizers, amount of sunlight and air temperature combine to produce unique regional varieties.

Some chili growers prefer to grow their chili in environmentally controlled greenhouses. This makes varieties being readily available locally at your local Mega Mart throughout the year. For plants grown outdoors during regular growing seasons, harvest times are August through October in the US.

Take a quick trip to your local open air farmer’s market & learn something
Talk to the growers who sell chili peppers and tell them that you’re a newbie

Talk to the growers who sell chili peppers and tell them that you’re a newbie and want to learn how to select and buy the best chili pods.

Examine each chili pod closely to insure that each has a glossy, smooth, firm skin. Look for bruising, GROWING JALAPENO CHILI soft bodies and withered, brown, blackened or missing stems. These characteristics mean that the pods were picked long before, are losing their piquancy or are downright dead.

Choose a selection and label the plastic or paper bags market vendors provide with a permanent marker. Or you can drop a small piece of paper into the bags to correctly ID the chili for later use when you get home.

To store fresh chili peppers, wrap the unwashed chili pods in paper towels or put them in plastic bags in a cool, dry place. Fresh chili generally has a 1-2 week shelf  life.

Obi Wan, you must taste the chili peppers you bought to gain the ancient, hidden knowledge of piquancy
To know chili, you have to experience them on a personal level. Now, I don’t mean grab a fresh, raw chili and bite into it. If you don’t know what to expect about how Capsaicin, the chemical compound that gives chili its punch, take some precautions.

To protect your fingers and skin, wear a pair of lightweight latex surgical gloves. These are thin enough to provide good dexterity so you can hold a chili pod securely. Also put on a set of goggles to protect your eyes from Capsaicin that may be launched off the pod.

Examine each chili pod closely for bruising, soft bodies, missing stems or open slits, because these pods could be leaking Capsaicin which readily transfers to your fingertips, and to any part of your face or body that you touch.

What’s this Capsaicin stuff?
Capsaicin is odorless, colorless and undetectable until it starts to burn. Use a knife to cut off the stem of a chili pod. Run a fingertip over the hole where the stem was, then touch your finger to your tongue. The pod tip nearest the stem is the mildest part of the chili. Capsaicin isn’t concentrated there like it is in the pod’s ribs and membranes.

If the heat sensation isn’t unpleasant, make a small notch into the flesh of the pod and touch your tongue to the pod.

You’ll  get an immediate Capsaicin rush as the chemical invades your taste buds. This is essentially how chili heat was first tested with the Scoville scale first developed back in 1896.

If the Capsaicin rush isn’t unpleasant, then go for the gusto and risk a small nibble. If your reaction is still OK, then go for a larger bite. If the heat becomes too much, here’s how to quench that 5-alarm fire on your tongue.

How to put out that five-alarm fire in your mouth
If you experience an intense chili burn, eat some yogurt, sour cream, drink some milk, or dip a wet fingertip in sugar and suck on it. Each of these foods contain the protein casein that will break the grip Capsaicin has on your taste receptors.

Never drink water or beer. These liquids while stored at cold temperatures will act like gasoline thrown onto a fire, feeding the fire already burning.

Why dos Capsaicin create heat in my mouth?
Capsaicin locks itself onto your tongue’s receptors. Once your receptors overload as the heat becomes too intense, your body reacts, your nose drips, and your eyes may water while your brain releases endorphins, creating a natural high of sorts. This is why chili heads get addicted.

Rest, repeat and try it again
Wait until the Capsaicin burn fades before proceeding onto the next chili pepper. Repeat the same procedure to identify taste and heat levels for each variety.

Experience will teach you how much chili to add to your culinary creations so you won’t overwhelm the folks who eat them unless you want to. You may find the testing experience rather pleasant, and end up wondering what all the fuss was about. Caution, you may be on your way to becoming a chili head addict.



    • John Ziemba