We are always looking for new ways to use chiles. A few years ago, we were both the kind of person who says – I like the flavour of spicy food, but not the heat. (Pff.) This view was somewhat reinforced by a vacation in Thailand, where we had green curries and green papaya salads whose spiciness seemed beyond human comprehension.
I think it was a Bobby Flay cookbook that got us started using chiles, and understanding how heat and flavour are really just different aspects of one and the same thing. Our tolerance for heat now is quite high, without being in the daredevil range. We’ve taken hour-long detours on road trips to visit specialty chile stores, and the pantry is stocked with a dozen or so different kinds.
A few weeks ago, at the height of the harvest, we found some perfect bird’s eye chiles, and fresh Cayenne peppers, which we’d never seen before. They inspired us to investigate the drying function on our oven, and a few hours later we had a whole crop of home-dried chiles. The Cayenne peppers have a particularly earthy flavour that’s added gorgeous warmth and colour to a recent bouillabiasse and a couple of ratatouilles.
We’ve also been playing around with the concept of pepper vodka, and after a few experiments, have come up with something with the perfect kick. Bird’s eye chiles (cleaner tasting than the Cayenne), red Kampot pepper, red Szechuan pepper, and some dried orange peel to round things out. The Kampot pepper is called red (and you can see the redness under certain light) because the berries are left on the vine to ripen past the black stage. An incredibly rich and pungent pepper with deep, resinous flavour. We’re looking forward to seeing how this bottle ages.
NOTE: november 2011
So we found out the hard way that after a few days you’re supposed to strain out the pepper and chiles. This was perfection after about 7 days of infusion – bright, hot, and balanced. A week later it was so strong that even diluting it with another 3 cups of vodka did nothing to attenuate its blinding heat. Might be good for say – washing windows, or de-scaling bathroom tiles.