Bring on the Fire
Spicy Inroads into the USA
Mark P. Stevens
During the past 25 years there has been an unprecedented
change in American eating habits.
Improved transportation systems have allowed for the marketing of a much
more diverse selection of foods than at any other time in history. One specific change in national tastes is
the sweeping tide of hot and spicy food that is moving inland from the coasts
and north from the southern Border States.
Fiery cuisine is taking on a life of it’s own, with specialty stores and
restaurants devoted to the burn. There
is even an Internet mailing list of ChileHeads with close to a thousand
subscribers worldwide who use it to discuss every aspect of this spicy food
subculture, centered on the hot chile pepper they adoringly refer to as “El
in hot & spicy cuisine is due in part to the availability of them resulting
from a world wide distribution system, as well as the incorporation of large
numbers of immigrants from tropical climates, where a love of spicy foods seems
to have always been a culinary tradition.
Large communities of people migrating from the Caribbean, Central
America and tropical areas of the Pacific Rim such as India, Thailand and
Malaysia have contributed to the popularity of their fiery foods.
chile pepper itself is a New World vegetable.
Like corn, tomatoes and potatoes, they were unknown outside the Americas
prior to Columbus’ discovery of the new world.
Since the early voyages to the Americas started as a means of locating a
western route for the spice trade, it is felt that this is why chiles were
mistakenly named for the pungent fruit of the tropical vine that produces black
pepper. Can you imagine Malaysian, Thai
or Chinese cuisine prior to the introduction of chiles around 1500 AD?
varieties of peppers, also known as
members of the capsicum species, are not hot, or pungent. Most bell peppers
grown in the US have little or no pungency.
These varieties are used fresh, or often used to color other foods. The
wilder varieties, on the other hand, range from mildly to extremely pungent.
This is entirely due to the substance capsaicin, or, actually, a group of
similar substances called capsaicinoids.
These chemicals are found mostly in the ribs of the peppers, and
especially the placenta, which are the light colored membranes that attach the
seeds to the inside of the pepper pod.
Pure capsaicin is a whitish powder, soluble in alcohol but insoluble in
cold water, which is why drinking water to help alleviate the burning won't
work. Drinking whole milk or other
dairy products will help alleviate the burn, as will bread or other starchy
fare. Several people on the ChileHeads
mailing list swear by bananas as the ultimate rescue!
are used in a wide variety of ways.
They can be chopped and used raw in salsas and salads, or used along
with citrus juices to marinade seafood in a dish called ceviche. They can also be cooked into a large number
of Southwestern, Asian and Indonesian dishes.
Chiles are also often dried and/or smoked. A smoked Jalapeno is called a Chipotle, and adds a pungent smokey
heat to many soups and stews.
capsaicinoids are unique compared to other "spicy" substances such as
mustard oil (zingerone and allyl isothiocyanate), black pepper (piperine) and
ginger (gingerol) in that capsaicin causes a long-lasting selective
desensitization to the irritant pain by repeated doses of a low concentration
or a single high concentration dose. This effect has been taken to its logical
conclusion in that many pain killing salves and creams now use capsaicin as
their active ingredient. This is also
manifests in 'Chile-heads' as an increasing ability to eat hotter chile peppers
and foods. Another effect of capsaicin
is that although it fools the nervous system into believing that it is being
burned, that no actual physical damage occurs.
As a result the brain releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller,
resulting in a slight euphoria experienced by the chile-chomper!
in the early 1900s, a chemist named Wilbur Scoville, developed a method to
measure the heat level of chile
peppers. it's called the Scoville Organoleptic
Test, and is a dilution-taste procedure. In the original test, Scoville blended
pure ground chiles with a sugar-water solution and a panel of testers then
sipped the concoctions, in increasingly diluted concentrations, until they
reached the point at which the liquid no longer burned the mouth. A number was
then assigned to each chile based on how much it needed to be diluted before
you could taste no heat. The Scoville
heat scale is measured in multiples of 100 units, with the lowly bell pepper
rated zero, to the scorching, fruity tasting habanero which rates at 300,000
Scoville units. One variety of
habanero, the Red Savina, has been tested at over 500,000 units, and has been
listed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the worlds hottest chile! These days the Scoville method of tasting
diluted chiles has been replaced by
High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). This has allowed a more precise measurement of the actual amount
of capsaicinoids in a sample of
chiles. The resulting measurement is
usually related back to the Scoville scale for comparison.
||Type of Chile Pepper
||Standard U.S. Grade pepper spray
|| Naga Jolokia
|| Red Savina™ Habanero
|| Habanero chile pepper
|| Rocoto Jamaican Hot Pepper
|| Thai Pepper
|| Cayenne Pepper
|| Serrano Pepper/td>
|| New Mexican
|| Jalapeño Pepper
|| Rocotillo Pepper
|| Poblano Pepper
|| Anaheim pepper
||No heat, Bell Pepper
of the first commercial condiments to be used to add a little fire to ones life
was Tabasco cayenne pepper sauce.
Originated in southern Louisiana just after the civil war, it was used
on raw oysters, scrambled eggs and gumbo.
Until the early 90s this and a few other cayenne type sauces were the
only game in town. The hot sauce
industry is now approaching $200 million a year in business. Now there are over 1000 different varieties
of hotsauce sold, some milder than Tabasco, many scorchingly hotter! The Tabasco Company itself now markets
several varieties of sauces, one flaming version made with habanero peppers,
considered by many fiery foods enthusiasts to be the hottest chile on earth.
product that has made deep inroads into popular culinary circles in the US is
salsa, which surpassed the previous favorite condiment, catsup, in the early
90s. Generally a tomato based product
with chiles, onions and cilantro, there are hundreds of varieties offered with
diverse ingredients such as mangos, papaya, Vidalia onions, jicama, corn,
tomatillos and olives. Once reserved as
a dip for tortilla chips, salsas are now served as an accompaniment to a
variety of meats and fish
don’t merely like the bite of these pungent pods; they yearn for it. The chile pepper adds a certain sensory
element to a dish, however elaborate or delicate it might be. The ChileHead is addicted. They start collecting different concoctions
including hot sauces, salsas, fresh or dried chiles and ground chile
powders. In what some might consider
obsessive, the pepper eater may begin to turn his or her nose up at foods that
cannot be enhanced by the addition of some sort of spicy condiment. That a
third of the world’s population has become so enamored of a fruit that bites
back with such a vengance is remarkable.
They will seek out others of their faith and trade chiles, sauces and stories. When they have stopped sweating and fanning
their mouths they will reach for another taste of El Grande…
Mark P. Stevens
Some Firey Recipes
oz. cream cheese
cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
cup green onion, chopped
tsp ground coriander
tsp cayenne (or more, to taste. For
Chilehead events I’ve used dried habanero powder)
stalk celery chopped
tsp lemon juice
oz. (3/4" by 2") thin slices smoked salmon
favorite crackers (I use wheatsworth)
In a bowl, soften cream cheese and stir in chives, green onion walnuts and
Add lemon juice and spices and mix well.
Spread mixture on salmon slices and season with pepper, roll up to form neat
Place a cucumber slice on each cracker and place a sprig of dill and a salmon
roll on each cucumber.
Drizzle with remaining lemon juice and garnish with chives if desired.
add some more heat you can add a couple drops of habanero sauce to the top of
the cucumber during assembly. The sauce I use has cloves and honey which
to compliment the flavor of the salmon. You might want to play around with the
rolls may be prepared several hours in advance, and assembled just before
serving to prevent the cracker from getting soggy.
Bo Hue (Vietnamese Hot and Spicy Soup)
By Lyn Belisle of the FoodWine mailing list
1/2 pounds roast beef
tsp. meat tenderizer
stems lemongrass, cut into 3" pieces
tablespoon chili powder
tablespoon vegetable oil
teaspoon chopped dry onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
teaspoon shrimp paste
package rice vermicelli noodles, cooked and drained
1. Boil the pork feet 10 minutes, then drain.
2. Cut the beef into bite size cubes, boil for
10 minutes, then drain.
3. In a deep
saucepan half filled with water, add pork feet and meat
tenderizer. Cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the beef cubes and
continue to cook over medium heat.
4. In the meantime put oil in a small skillet,
heat until very hot, remove from burner and immediately throw in the dried
onion and the chili powder. Stir well and pour into soup.
5. Add the shrimp paste and seasonings to
taste. Let soup simmer for 30-45 minutes until pig's feet are well cooked.
6. Soup is ready to serve. Fill bowls half full
of rice noodles and ladle the soup over them.
7. Serve with chopped green onion, cilantro,
sliced peppers, and lime.
Hot & Sour Soup
cups chicken stock
lb julienned lean pork or chicken
tbsp garlic & red chile paste
tbsp soy sauce
tsp ground white pepper
cup sliced shittake mushrooms
peeled straw mushrooms
can sliced bamboo shoots
can sliced water chestnuts
can baby corn ears
cake soft tofu, sliced into 1/4 inch cubes
cup white vinegar
tsp sesame oil
cup dried black fungus (cloud ears), soaked in water for one hour, drained and
chopped scallions for garnish
Bring stock to a simmer, add soy, pork, mushrooms & chile paste, simmer for
add pepper, vinegar, bamboo, baby corn, water chestnuts, fungus and tofu,
simmer 10 min
Mix cornstarch with 5 tbsp water and add. bring back to a simmer and pour the
eggs in a very thin stream over the surface. Let stand for 10 seconds before
gently stirring in the sesame oil.
serve with a garnish of chopped scallions. The pepper, vinegar and chile paste
can be varied to taste. You're a chile-head, you know what to do!
Chicken & Veggie Soup
the idea for this after sampling a couple bowls of a regional style soup during
a trip to the Firey Foods Festival in New Mexico, just substituted Chipotles
for the green
lb. roasting chicken
32 oz can chicken stock
cup coarsley chopped celery (Save all veggie trimmings for stock)
cup diced red bell pepper
cup sliced carrots
medium onions coarsely chopped
cup corn kernels
16 oz can diced tomato
14 oz. can chipotles in adobo sauce
black pepper to taste
to taste (I use heavy chinese soy sauce)
1. Roast chicken in oven till done, cool
2. Debone chicken and save all the bones &
scraps. Cut meat into bite size bits removing fat & gristle. Refrigerate.
3. In a large stock pot add bones and carcass
as well as veggie peelings, carrot butts and onion skins etc and cover with
cold water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 2 to 3
skimming and stirring occasionally.
4. Strain through a colander and add stock back
to pot. Add celery, bell pepper, corn, onions and carrots as well as the canned
stock and bring to a simmer. Cook until
begin to turn tender. Add chicken and canned tomato.
5. While soup is coming back to a simmer, take
about a cup of it and put in a food processor with the chipotles & adobo.
Whirr it up for about 30 seconds or untill the
are well pureed. Add salt, pepper and thyme to the soup, then start adding the
chipotle puree about a quarter cup at a time, stirring and tasting for the
Using all of it makes for a chileheads delite, but may be too much for some
gringos to handle!
6. This makes a big old pot full, which would
probably serve 10 or 15 people. Good for freezing and serving at a later time.
could use all canned stock and one of those rotisserie chickens from the store,
but my life is dull and I got nothin' better to do...