Cooking with the Chili Pepper

There are certain truths in my culinary history for which I am admittedly sheepish. For example, before last week, I had never attempted to cook with a hot chili pepper. Growing up in an Irish family on the Midwestern plains of corn (yep, I’m from Indiana, a Hoosier if you will), chili peppers never figured highly in my kitchen experience. But, I love spicy food and have since educated myself on the health benefits of chili peppers and the relative capsaicin levels (the heat culprit) in the different varieties of chili pepper. With this knowledge, I was finally ready to cook Fish Masala last week.

In my inaugural tryst with the hot chili pepper, I was certainly timid. I did not want my Masala to be tear-your-head-off HOT, so I went for a nice Serrano pepper, just below Thai and Cayenne in the punch it packs. With no experience under my belt, I didn’t really know what to expect, and probably went a little overboard with my precautions. I used plastic gloves, washed my hands obsessively, and even, horror of horrors, removed all the seeds from the Serrano pepper (a large portion of the pepper’s heat). I knew I was going to add ground cayenne pepper and curry powder to make my Masala, and I wanted to be careful (read: I’m a wuss).

Sadly, the Fish Masala did NOT work. I was impressed by the pungent smell of the spices that filled my apartment during cooking, but in the end, it could have used more heat. Next time, the seeds stay in. Although, I think the greater obstacle to the success of this dish was the fish itself. Tilapia or Sea Bass seem to work well with the flavors of Indian and Thai cooking. I used Kingfish, which may very well be better suited to a proper grilling. My friend Adam’s summation of the recipe was this, “Eh, just use chicken.” Agreed.

Chicken with Coconut Curry Sauce

Ingredients

6-7 chicken breast fillets
60g (2oz.) ghee

Coconut Curry Sauce:
30g (1oz) ghee
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 stem lemon grass, chopped finely
2-3 small red chilies, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamom
2 tsp. curry powder
340ml can coconut milk

Directions

Melt ghee in pan, add chicken, fry gently until golden brown and tender; drain, slice. Serve topped with coconut curry sauce. For sauce, melt ghee in pan, add onions, garlic and lemon grass, sauté until onions are soft. Add chilies, cinnamon, cardamom and curry. Cook, stirring, about a minute. Stir in coconut milk and simmer, uncovered 5 minutes. Remove from heat, blend or process until smooth, strain and reheat.

  • painter

    Thoughts on chili peppers.

    The heat of a pepper is primarily in the lighter colored pulp that connects the interior of the pepper to the seeds. By scrupulously trimming a hot pepper you can enjoy the many amazing flavors of even the hotest peppers without bringing tears to your eyes. Many restaurants will not add heat using fresh hot peppers because the heat even in the same pepper species varies. They instead will use dry powdered pepper which makes it easier to control the heat. I have the best luck with starting gently with minced pepper without the connective tissue, tasting and adding more until you reach the desired heat.

    It can be amazing how much more heat you get by adding the whole pepper.

  • Caley

    Thanks for the tip painter. I will keep that in mind next I cook with chili peppers!

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