Friday, January 29, 2010

Chili Peppers

When I was a young chef, I failed to heed the warnings that came with the preparation of chili peppers.

The task assigned was to dice a 5 lb box of jalapeno chili peppers. The chef anticipated my anguish and suggested I use gloves but my pride suggested otherwise.

Very inexperienced and naïve, I wanted to win over both the kitchen staff and my chef. As the only woman (very common in kitchens) I found that showing toughness when possible was the best way to earn respect in a kitchen.

At first it was just a tingling sensation and then underneath my fingernails it began to sting with pain, it intensified with every passing moment and it crept up into my hands and made tears in my eyes. Determined not to show any anguish I continued to work and dismissed the burning sensation. Once I finished I received a simple nod of approval.

Though content with my accomplishment I vowed never to let my naivety get the best of me. Like an artichoke with its prickly needless or a live lobster with its dangerous claws, preparing chilies need a plan of attack and respect for its potentially dangerous features.

The lesson learned: Don’t mess with peppers unless you have gloves or know how to work with them.

The painful memory aside, that first experience led to my love for chilies and peppers and all they encompass.

Sweet and spicy chilies and chilies come in all colors, shapes, flavors, and sizes.

Originally from South and Central America chilies have lots of heat, adding spice to your food. They should not be confused with peppers, originally from South America, are sweet with little to no heat.

Bell peppers, the most common variety of peppers, are found in a variety of colors—green, red, orange, yellow, purple, black and brown. Most commonly roasted for a variety of dishes including fajitas, toppings on pizzas and garnishes for salads.

Chilies are a totally different vegetable. The hot temperature of the chili is a combination of the membrane, the white pulp found in the chili pepper, and the seeds. The seeds contain capsaicin, an irritant stimulant found within. Cutting into a spicy chili pepper, the heat intensifies the closer you cut toward the stem where most the membrane and the seeds lie.

Best- eaten raw chilies contain large quantity of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. They help clear sinuses, fight cholesterol and I have heard they can help suppress appetites.

Here are list of my favorite chilies and chili peppers and their common uses….

  1. Jalapeno Peppers: Mild in temperature and green in color. Found in many typical Mexican style dishes used fresh or raw.

  1. Italian Pepperoncini: Mild in temperature, green and red in color and delicious pickled. Found in Italian cuisine. Served with sandwiches, salads and charcuterie platters.

  1. Shishito Peppers: Mild in temperature with a lasting bite in the flavor. Great deep-fried as an appetizer. Found in both Japanese and Spanish style cuisine.

  1. Pasilla Chilies: Dark red burgundy color and found dried. The Pasilla is used in Mexican dishes like Chicken mole.

  1. Poblano Peppers: Mild in temperature and dark green with a waxy texture. Found in many Mexican style dishes. They are best roasted and added to a dish or stuffed with bread, rice, ground beef and spices.

  1. Serrano Chilies: Very hot, a hotter version of the jalapeno pepper. It is a meaty green chili that can easily be mistaken for a jalapeno. The difference is the heat.

  1. Chipotle Peppers (also known as Chipotle in adobo sauce): Medium in temperature. Most common canned, deep red and brown color with a very smoky flavor and spicy flavor. (This is a ripened jalapeno). Found in many Mexican and Southwest dishes- Chipotle Sauce over grilled chicken.

  1. Ancho Chilies: Mild in temperature- Similar in color to the poblano. Milder in temperature and sweet compared to most of the other chilies.

  1. Habanero Chilies: The spiciest chili of them all. The Habanera can be sliced thinly and incorporated into salads raw or turned into a paste and spread lightly over anything.

Peppers and chilies can be dried and ground into a powder or liquefied for seasoning a variety of foods. This allows for easy access and they are a huge part of everyday cooking.

  1. Paprika is dried ground Red Bell Pepper, not a chili. Used mostly for coloring and adding sweetness to a dish, I use it to dust a roast chicken to give it that speckled glow.

  1. Cayenne is a dried hot red chili pepper. Cayenne is easy to work with, and blends easily into soups and stews. Cayenne can be found in different types of chili stews.

  1. Black Pepper is from the pepper plant originally grown in India. The berries are picked and dried, known as a peppercorn when left whole black pepper is the most popular spice.

  1. Peppercorns come in white (light in flavor), pink (floral in flavor), green (strong in flavor) and gray (impossible to find). Colored peppercorns are great whole in sauces or ground for an extra hint of flare, flavor and/or color.

  1. Tabasco Sauce is made from the Tabasco Pepper. It can be added as an after thought to many dishes similar to the way we add salt and pepper. Many people like a bit of Tabasco on their scrambled eggs.

  1. Sriracha Chili Sauce, is in my opinion, the best no fat healthy chili sauce.

Cooking with Chilies can take some experimentation and I would caution that it is always best to use less than you think you will need, as you can always add more.

When eating or cooking with chilies remember that a fat protein will reduce the heat. If your dish gets too hot, serve it with whole milk, versus water. You can also add a bit of olive oil or butter to a dish that has gotten too hot.

And don’t forget. Wear disposable gloves when cutting chilies, rinse your cutting utensils and board while wearing your gloves and don’t touch your eyes or face until you have thoroughly washed your hands and removed all the oil from your hands. A bit of acid, vinegar or lemon juice rubbed over your hands can also help.

Good luck cooking with chilies and let me know if you have any questions.

Happy Cooking!

Chef Mary

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The information provided is general information about healthy eating. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice or treatment that may have been prescribed by your physician or any other health care providers. Always consult a physician before starting any new diet or regimen.

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