Using Super Hot Peppers in Indian Cuisine
It's not often we dig out Reapers, Ghosts or scorpion peppers. But there are good reasons to use these monsters in cooking, you just have to know how. In this article, chef Ben explains how he uses super hot peppers in preparing Indian cuisine.
Varieties of Super Hot Chili
The Hottest of the hot chili peppers are habañero (~500k Scoville heat units or SHU), the 7-pot family of peppers (~1M SHU-2MSHU), scorpion peppers (1.5-2M SHU), and the hottest of all, the Carolina Reaper (1.5-2.2M SHU), pictured above, dried along with some smaller Chocolate ghost peppers. By comparison a Jalapeño weighs in at about 5000 SHU. Yup, we're dealing with serious heat.
Drying Super Hot Peppers
Generally speaking, microbes abhor super hot chilies. They will mildew in the refridgerator if given enough time (i.e., probably the amount of time it takes for a strain of mold to mutate to a point to where it can withstand the high concentrations of capsaicin) However, if you buy a small box of scorpion peppers, chances are you're only going to use a small amount so drying them is an essential step in consuming them. In my kitchen, I have about a dozen of these peppers dried. If I don't make a hot sauce, I'll have them for years.
To dry anything above 1M SHU, you can simply stem, halve, and set aside on a plate somewhere where no one will be tempted into a perilous inspection of its contents. High shelves in the kitchen where there is little traffic and little humidity are perfect. You can leave out ghosts, 7 pots, or reapers, and they will simply dry out over a week or so.
If you live somewhere with a lot of ambient humidity, you can dry them in the oven by turning it on to its minimum setting, which should be something close to 180° or 170° C. When I have to oven dry hot peppers, I halve every pepper with gloves and a paring knife, and I dry in half-hour rounds, letting them cool for almost an hour in between, which prevents them from cooking or roasting too much. It also keeps the air from getting unbreathable. Generally, after about 8 half-hour rounds, they're ready. When finished drying, immediately seal the peppers in a mason jar or zip lock bag so that they remain dry.
Making a Super Hot Pepper Paste
From dried or fresh, you can make a paste with your peppers. This is a way to have the peppers ready to go when you need them. Generally this means a little water in a small pot, and cooking the peppers slowly, adding more water if needed.
Chefs do this in commercial kitchens where there are powerful vents above the ranges and grills, but likely you'll have a modest range hood above your stove or cooktop, in which case cooking super hot chilies will result in an unbreathable air quality similar to that produced by angry riot police.
If possible, use a portable burner outdoors or a barbecue side-burner to make your super-hot chili paste. Make sure the wind is not blowing toward a close neighbour's window (unless you really don't like that neighbour). Some sugar and vinegar will help preserve the paste: the amount will of course depend on your batch size. But if you want a general guideline, here is a recipe:
12 grams (or about a dozen dried) reaper peppers, or 15-20 dried ghost peppers
1 cup water (1/2 if using fresh)
1-2 tbsp sugar
1-2 tbsp vinegar
Add water as needed. Once your peppers are soft enough to blend, an immersion blender works best, but can only be used with larger batch sizes. You may use a blender as well, and be advised that when rinsing hot peppers from your cookware, the air becomes very spicy indeed.
Cooking with Super Hot Peppers
For the same reason you don't want to cook a pepper paste on your stovetop, we direct you to add your super hot peppers at the end of your cooking process. Never put a ghost pepper in your taarka, or at the beginning of the cooking process. Better to add a ground, dried pepper or pepper paste to the almost-complete dish, say for the final 3 minutes; just enough to combine the flavour of the hot peppers into the dish.
When to use Super Hot Peppers
Dishes that require a lot of Lal Mirch or Indian red Chili, or that require a lot of green chilies, should be left alone. Unless you're a hot-head (which you may be if you're reading this article) there's generally no need to make these dishes spicier. What's more, the flavour that comes along with them is usually definitive of the dish being made. Lal Maas, which uses several ground rajasthani chilies, is one example. For this reason we don't recommend substituting super hot peppers for milder ones.
Super hot peppers come in handy when you don't want to interfere with the flavour of a dish, but you want it to be spicier. A korma for example, uses some Indian red chili, but is usually served mild. Or if your dish is already quite hot, but you want to take it to the next level, then you may add, say, 1 or 1/2 ghost pepper.
Combining super hot peppers with aromatic spices is where extra spicy curries get very interesting. Our own Patiala Chicken cooking kit, for example, uses a lot of aromatic spices like cassia, cloves, cardamom, and usually when you have a lot of these aromatics in your curry, you'll want it to be hotter.
Finally, Super Hot Peppers are the key ingredient in Indian Phaal, of which there are some recipes online. This one for lamb Phaal is one we can recommend, but, again, we caution against cooking the hot peppers for any length of time in a place without great ventilation.
A Few Warnings
All hot peppers, if handled, will burn. Then they burn whatever you touch. Your eye, your ear, whatever. Reapers and ghosts, especially so. When handling them, it's essential to wear gloves.
Once you have cut and processed super hot peppers, you should clean your knives and clean your cutting surface immediately. The last thing you want is to feed your child a nice slice of bread and peanut butter that for some reason is a 10 on the scoville scale.
Enjoy your super hot peppers responsibly, and as always, we invite you to share your creations with us on facebook and instagram. #masterindian