I have a thing for spicy food. Well, maybe it’s more than a thing.
Pizza? I want it soaked in Sriracha. Manapua? Ditto. Meat, fish, poultry, rice, pasta? Pour it on. Douse the burrito in spicy salsa. Add Tabasco to the chili, to the poi. Dilute the pho with hot sauce until you can’t see the broth anymore.
I have several small bottles of the red stuff in my office desk drawer, where other people hide chocolate or chewing gum.
And until recently, I’d never met my match. Not since this all began–on vacation at age seven, at a Chevy’s Fresh Mex in California, when a fleck of hot pepper caught in my throat–have I stopped guzzling the stuff.
Then I made a DIY Sriracha last month. It seemed like a logical (even belated) extension of my loves for chile peppers, homemade and homegrown foods–and a great way to somewhat temper my outsized consumption of the preservatives used in commercial hot sauce preparations.
The recipe called for a pound of chili peppers, so I went outside to my robust bush and picked every last ripe fruit–45 of them in all. On to the kitchen scale they went: 0.9 oz.
I think it was a scale error (these days, my machine seems to venture a number like a best guess), but it was very clear to me that my peck of peppers was far from a pound.
Enter Jane, on whom we can always count–especially in special situations like these. Jane volunteered a pound of frozen peppers from her mother’s garden in Kahaluu, where everything is bountiful and all bounty is saved. So many peppers had accumulated that they had (Jane politely insisted) no idea what to do with them all. I gratefully accepted.
(This is not a picture of Jane’s peppers–I lost that file in the recent incident. Luckily I had already uploaded a couple shots, if only of the mild Hawaiian chili peppers.)
As I picked through the pound (the recipe says to leave the calyx on each pepper, for vegetal flavor) a thought crossed my mind: these look like habaneros.
Per the instructions, I pureed the lot with a little garlic and mirin, and left it to ferment for several days at room temperature, for the flavors to develop and become miko. This paste was then brought to a quick boil, pureed again, and strained through a fine sieve to remove the seeds.
The result looked nothing like Sriracha–it was thin, like paint. But it had a handsome red blush to it and I couldn’t wait to take a taste…
With caution, I had sampled an eighth-teaspoon of the stuff. It was bitter, almost smoky, for a second then blossomed into an overwhelming five-bell piquancy that sent me rushing for a drink.
I decanted an ounce into a tiny glass jar for a second opinion, and took it to Manoa for my family to taste.
Mom smartly avoided, and Dad and sister gave it a try. They likewise found it too hot to enjoy–in fact, too hot to eat at all. Meanwhile (inexplicably) I found myself spooning it over my coconut curry, my inflamed tastebuds craving another hit of capsaicin.
I tried it once more, on a weekend dinner at home, and poured with more courage, assuming the sauce had probably mellowed with age. I nearly burned a hole in my stomach, so it went into the back of the fridge for a month.
Where it only got hotter still.
The Scoville Scale of peppers ranks the Red Savina habanero as the second or third hottest chile on earth, at 350,000-580,000 Scoville heat units. Which means that you’d have to dilute it that many times until the heat is no longer detectable. Put another way, pure Red Savina habanero is like a 10% solution of police-grade pepper spray.
Regular habaneros are about half as hot, but they’re still 100x a jalapeno and while the pound of peppers I pureed yielded but a scant cup of sauce, I wasn’t looking to dilute this to anything near 100x its current volume. So I tried ketchup: partly on the premise that the very concentrated tomato flavor could stand up to the heat…but mostly because it just sounded delicious.
Now I can squeeze a big red hit of the stuff onto whatever I’m eating: eggs, quesadilla, soba noodles. It’s rich and very delicious with only the faintest note of near-death.
Just the way I like it.
Update: Just like Tabasco! Check it out on MattBites.