Monday, October 14, 2013

Hot Stuff

'Bhut Jolokia' or Ghost Pepper was long considered the hottest pepper in the world.
Frost has been late to arrive this fall, but the hot pepper season out in the garden is not going to last much longer. This year I experimented with growing some of the very hottest Capsicum cultivars, and using them very cautiously to spice up sauces, stir-fries and burritos.

'Bhut Jolokia' is a hybrid of Capsicum chinense that was originally cultivated in the northeastern corner of India. The ancestors of all of the chili peppers and bell peppers came from South America, but were spread to the Old World rapidly after European contact, allowing time for many unique new varieties to be selected, especially in southern Asia.

'Bhut Jolokia' rates at about one million Scoville units, at least when grown under ideal warm and sunny conditions. Ghost Peppers from Connecticut are probably not that potent, but a few finger-nail slivers of fruit are still plenty to make a dinner that's about as hot as I can tolerate. Scoville units are a measure of dilution needed before a human taster would not be able to detect any heat, i.e., a gallon of pureed 'Bhut Jolokia' would need to be diluted in a million gallons of water to make a more or less non-spicy solution. For comparison, JalapeƱo peppers rate at less than 10,000 Scoville units.

7-Pot Yellow Chili.
From the Caribbean come several strains of hot pepper known as '7-Pot' chili, so called because one pepper is enough to season seven pots of stew. Here in New England a yellow variety grew pretty slowly and set fruit late, though a couple of plants are still going to yield more than enough peppers to spice up my stews for the foreseeable future. '7-Pot' varieties have similar Scoville ratings to 'Bhut Jolokia.'

'Trinidad Scorpion Moruga Blend'
'Trinidad Scorpion' is another land race (localized, traditional variety) of chili pepper from the Caribbean. The selection 'Trinidad Scorpion Moruga Blend' tested out last year as the hottest pepper ever recorded, at 1.5 to two million Scoville units. Some new hybrids are supposedly even hotter, though any of the three varieties pictured here exist in the murky borderland between foodstuff and biochemical weapon, and demand significant caution when handling. I made some Trinidad Scorpion hot sauce (6 de-seeded fruits diluted in a cup of vinegar, a cup of cooked apples and carrots and 2 teaspoons salt), and just about had to flee the kitchen when it was cooking, even with exhaust fans going full blast. After a couple of weeks of soaking, rinses with alcohol and runs in the dishwasher, I think the food processor is decontaminated. The sauce is actually kind of nice (Trinidad Scorpions have a pleasant fruity-floral flavor under all the heat), if used a drop or two at a time.