Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Time to get spicy?

When he's not writing, Dan is always in the kitchen. One of his big passions is fresh, locally grown produce. While Hampshire isn't the warmest place in the world, it is fine for growing everyday things like garlic, onion and tomatoes.

What Dan really loves is chilli. There are hundreds of chilli varities from the mild to the very hot. You can get notes of vanilla, banana, and many more flavours too so it isn't all about the heat.

When you say chilli, people often think of Jalapeno or Bird's Eye as they are so readily available. The more specialist chillis are much more cost effective to grow rather than buy, but this inevitably leads to a late August/ early September glut.

The heat of chilli is meaured in scovilles, which is based on the ratio between the amount of chilli and the quantity of water required to extinguish the heat. A scotch bonnet could be around 100,000 scovilles, and thus for one unit of chilli you'd need 100,000 units of water to stop the burn.

We don't think scoville is ideal. The heat is oil based so water has very little effect. Yoghurt, cream and full fat milk are the order of the day when you find your mouth on fire.

When we have too many chillis, the temptation is to waste some. But chillis are easy to save for later - the easiest way to store chillis include

1. Drying. Dried chillis can be stored whole (for rehydration) or powdered for easy use.

2. Freezing. While freezer burn can be a problem, freezing them slowly avoids this. For the very lazy, chillis can be chopped then frozen in ice cube trays (with or without other spices like garlic) and then when you need one, just pop the ice cube into the pan.

3. Pickle them. Very common with jalapenos, it can be quite a harsh way to store them but they do last for a very long time.

4. Make a sauce (or chutney). This is Dan's favorite. Sauces are usually vineger based, but adventureous chefs might like to try distilling chilli into a rum based sauce. We've found this to work really well with habaneros, trinidad scorpion etc.

Bottle it up, stick on a label and you can impress friends all year round with some serious spice.

The end of April is a great time to get planting this years crop for a late summer harvest. Asian chillis have a longer growing time, but many common varieties will give a great yield if planted now. We've got some spare seeds (saved from our last four seasons, and self pollinated to prevent cross pollination) so if there's interest we can post a few seeds out if any of you would like to give growing your own a shot.

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