• Stir It Up: Heat up your summer with chili peppers
     | July 05,2013
    Todd Coleman Photo

    Fried hot chili peppers and cold beer are heaven for heat seekers. The photo and recipe are from “The Hot Sauce Cookbook” by Robb Walsh.

    What is it about hot weather that makes us crave spicy food?

    Summer seems to be the time when people who would never dream of adding chili peppers to their beef stew in December will happily gobble barbecued brisket with habanero sauce or chicken enchiladas spiked with chipotles in July. We shake hot sauce into our Bloody Marys and onto chicken wings. In the immortal words of John Mellencamp, it “hurts so good.”

    That phrase also happens to be the title of the first chapter of “The Hot Sauce Cookbook” by award-winning Texas food writer and hot sauce expert Robb Walsh. “Like coffee, tea and marijuana, chili peppers are considered to be psychotropics,” he writes. The chemical capsaicin in chilies actually causes the brain to release endorphins, “natural painkillers that are stronger than morphine.” So maybe some of us seek out our chili highs in the summer because it’s the time of year when we are all ready to get a bit crazy.

    Walsh can help. (He can also help those of us who don’t mind getting a chili “high” in any season.) His book is a small, handy guide to commonly available chilies, from the “hot stuff” of Mexican and Meso-American cooking, to the peppery cuisine of the Caribbean islands, to the fermented hot sauces of Louisiana and the international chilies of Asia.

    His book explains why every homemade hot sauce I’ve ever tried to make failed, and offers recipes for successful sauces. The key, it turns out, is to ferment the pepper mash.

    One of the revelatory recipes in this book is hardly a recipe at all, more an afterthought kind of dish you’d throw together as a nosh to accompany a cold beer. It’s for sauteed chili peppers, and once you start making them you are unlikely to stop anytime soon.

    The coconut-chili Fire and Ice Ice Cream — the winning entry in a hot sauce contest — is a conversation piece as well as a great end to a summer meal. The Pepper Vinegar (also called “pique”) is an easy and quick homemade condiment that does not require fermenting and can add that endorphin rush. Hurts so good!

    Fried Chilies

    Yield: 4 servings

    ½ pound green Padron peppers, or Fresno, serrano or jalapeno chilies

    ½ cup olive oil

    Salt (preferably good quality sea salt)

    Arrange the chilies in a single layer in a frying pan and drizzle with the oil. Place over medium heat and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until the chilies sizzle. Turn the heat to low and cook, turning often, until the chilies are soft and the skin is loose, 10 to 15 minutes, or to the desired texture. Drain on paper towels. Lightly salt the warm chilies and serve them, skins and all, on a small plate.

    (Recipe from “The Hot Sauce Cookbook” by Robb Walsh; Ten Speed Press, 2013)

    Fire and Ice Ice Cream

    Yield: 4 cups, or 8 (½ cup) servings

    1 (16-ounce) can cream of coconut (not coconut milk)

    1¼ cups half-and-half

    ½ cup heavy cream

    2 tablespoons Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce

    ½ cup sweetened shredded coconut

    Grated zest from 2 limes, plus more for garnish

    4 to 6 graham crackers, each separated into sections, for serving

    Whisk together the cream of coconut, half-and-half, heavy cream, Tabasco, shredded coconut and lime zest. Chill thoroughly. Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Transfer to a freezer container and freeze for 1 to 4 hours.

    Serve, sprinkled with extra grated lime zest and a few sections of graham crackers.

    (Recipe from Mary Frances Fatsis, grand prize winner of the Hot Sauce Cookbook Recipe Contest, reprinted in “The Hot Sauce Cookbook” by Robb Walsh; Ten Speed Press, 2013)

    Pepper Vinegar (Pique)

    Yield: 1 pint, plus more when refilled

    5 habanero-type chilies (includes Scotch Bonnet and bullnose peppers)

    1 carrot, peeled and chopped

    1 small onion, peeled and chopped

    4 garlic cloves, peeled

    1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger

    1 sprig fresh thyme

    1 ¾ cups cane vinegar, cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

    1 teaspoon rum

    Wearing rubber gloves to protect your skin from burns, make a small slit in each chili with the point of a knife to allow the liquid to penetrate quickly. Stuff the chilies, carrot, onion, garlic, ginger and thyme into a clean pint jar or syrup dispenser. Add the vinegar and rum, cover, and wait a week for the flavors to develop. Alternatively, heat the vinegar; the pique will be ready in a few hours.

    When you use all the vinegar, just add more (with another teaspoon of rum). Again, heating the vinegar when you refill the bottle speeds the process. Refill three or four times; one bottle of the vegetable mix is good for three or four batches of pique.

    (Recipe from “The Hot Sauce Cookbook” by Robb Walsh; Ten Speed Press, 2013)

    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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