Chile Pepper 101
Chile peppers belong to the same family as eggplant, winter cherry, potato, tamarillo and tomato. The different species of chile pepper have different sizes, shapes, colors, and flavors.
Some peppers are green (jalapeño, serrano, poblano); others are coppery, purple or red (ancho, cascabel, or cherry pepper, cayenne pepper, japone, hontaka, pasilla); others are yellow (caribe, guero). Some chili peppers are so strong that they cause tears when they are cut (guero, habanero, japone).
Cayenne pepper, originally from around the Cayenne River in French Guyana, is a powder of dried red chili peppers with a very hot taste.
Paprika is a powder made from dried red peppers.
Harissa is a condiment based on chile peppers that is especially enjoyed in the Middle East and North Africa. Its contains a puree of small red chili peppers, cayenne pepper, oil, garlic, coriander, mint leaves, caraway and sometimes several other spices.
Chili powder is a mixture of spices based on dried ground hot peppers originally from Mexico. It contains black pepper, cumin, oregano, paprika, clove and garlic. The heat of the peppers determines the strength of the seasoning.
BUYING CHILE PEPPER
Choose: fresh or dried chile peppers that are well colored with shiny skin that has no marks or soft spots. Ground chile peppers should have an even color and good aroma. Dried whole chili peppers are often wrinkled, which is normal.
STORING CHILE PEPPER
At Room Temperature: Keep chili powder in an airtight container, in a dark, dry and cool place; Tabasco® sauce, indefinitely.
In the Fridge: Unwashed chile peppers, 1 week, in a paper bag; paprika powder in an airtight container; opened containers of harissa.
In the Freezer: Grill or blanch (3 minutes) chile peppers, then peel.
Chile peppers can be marinated or dried.
Dried chile peppers will keep for 1 year.
PREPARING CHILE PEPPER
Avoid touching the face, lips, and eyes when cutting up chile peppers, as it can cause irritations. Simply handling chile peppers can cause tears due to the capsaicin, which is highly volatile; wash hands with soap and water and clean knife and chopping board in hot water. If your hands are very sensitive; wear gloves.
If you wish to reduce the heat of chile peppers, do not use the seeds or white membranes from inside the pepper. Chile peppers can be soaked in cold water with a little vinegar for 1 hour.
COOKING CHILE PEPPER
Use chile peppers in small doses, as their flavor develops during cooking. A “safe” way of giving a chile pepper flavor to a dish consists of sautéing a chile pepper in oil and then using the oil for cooking.
Do not heat paprika for too long, to prevent it from losing its flavor and color.
SERVING IDEAS FOR CHILE PEPPER
Chile peppers are used dried, marinated or cooked, then made into a paste so that they mix through foods more evenly.
A pinch of cayenne pepper is usually enough to season a whole dish. It is used to flavor appetizers, soups, butter or cream sauces and main dishes with crustaceans or eggs.
Paprika and chili powder are used to flavor and color rice, pasta dishes, sauces and potato salads. Paprika is used with eggs, poultry, seafood, mayo and cheese dips or fresh cheeses. It is an essential ingredient goulash, a Hungarian beef stew.
Harissa is an essential ingredient in couscous. It enhances the taste of soups, salads, meats, fish, stews, rice, sauces, mayo and eggs. It is used as is or blended with some stock or olive oil and lemon juice. Use in moderation, if not accustomed to its strong flavor.
Tabasco® sauce flavors soups, vinaigrettes, sauces, dips, mixed salads, beans, lentils, stews, meats, poultry and seafood. One to three drops is enough to season a whole dish.
DID YOU KNOW?
Did you know that chile peppers contain more vitamin C than oranges?
To soften the hot taste from peppers; have some yogurt, milk, bread, cooked rice, sugar or candy…rather than water.