With their ‘Purus’ chilli sauce featured in last month’s September box, we invited The Chilli Alchemist to spread their words of chilli-wisdom.
I can’t help but feel that many of us Brits look at chilli the wrong way round. Almost any other culture in the world that embraces chilli and uses it in its native cuisine does so due to the flavour the fruit offers up, not the heat. Yet here in the UK we often encounter people looking for something extremely hot or customers too afraid to try a product as they believe that it will be too hot for them! When trading at festivals and events, it can be jading to hear people dismiss a product without trying it because they fear the heat.
The mildest product we make is so mild that we recently witnessed a parent offer it to their eight month old baby who then wanted more after tasting! No preconceived thoughts or narrow mindedness, just a willingness to try was enough. At the other end of the heat scale we often come across many customers (mostly male) looking for something that will make them sweat and feel uncomfortable because they “like the burn”. We’re convinced that bravado plays a part sometimes and our hottest product has been designed to offer a high level of heat with a longer burn time than many sauces. However, it’s built for flavour first.
We also hear the following comment regularly: “It’s too early for chilli”. Ask any chilli trader and they will tell you that they too have heard this on numerous occasions. It’s frustrating as this is a very British mind set. Go to India and you may well get chilli with your breakfast.
It’s never too early for us at The Chilli Alchemist and we often have our sauces with our savoury breakfasts. In fact, we find it to be invigorating and helps us wake up in the morning. Furthermore, when we are told that “it’s too early for chilli”, it’s even more frustrating to hear when the very person who has just said this then goes to the stall next door at 9am and tries a number of spirits and other alcoholic products! Anyway, we digress…
Think about buying apples. Many of us go to a market or shop and select a particular type of apple according to our individual taste. For example, some may opt for a Granny Smith apple as they like the hard crunch and semi-sharp acidity. Others may prefer a Pink Lady apple with its softer texture and perfumed sweetness. No matter which of these varieties you purchase, take a bite out of either and you know you are eating an apple due to the underlying flavour notes. Chillies are no different. Whilst so many of us look to chillies for heat before flavour, arguably we should be looking at it the other way. Of course, you still want to regulate the heat to be comfortable but the heat level of a pepper shouldn’t be the driver, the individual flavours should.
Many people know what a jalapeno is. Unfortunately, most are used to the sliced and pickled green variety that doesn’t carry the great flavour of a fresh, thick, fleshy jalapeno which has an incredible crunch. It’s a great chilli that offers up an earthy (almost grass-like) flavour with a high water content that helps makes it crunchy. It’s a great companion in salads, fantastic with richer meats, good for stuffing and, when ripened to red, a sweeter pepper that’s awesome with tomato dishes. When used fresh, this ubiquitous pepper can still provide a reasonable level of heat without being overbearing.
Fresh Cayenne chillies can be sweet, Scotch Bonnets perfumed and smoky, Habaneros can be citrus tasting and Ghost Peppers can be a rich, fruity flavour. There’s a world of chillies out there and they all taste different! If some of their flavours appeal but the heat doesn’t, why not look at treating the pepper like a bay leaf; pop it in the pot whole & take it out whole? The flavours infuse but the majority of the heat remains inside the pod.
As a sauce producer, we think hard about the flavour notes of the chillies we want to use. In fact, all of our sauces are built around the chilli. On too many occasions have we experienced sauces that have been produced using a strange and uncomplimentary set of ingredients which then have a chilli or two added for heat afterwards. It doesn’t make sense to us. We would classify something like that as a ‘hot sauce’ however, we like to think we produce ‘chilli sauces’, a product constructed with the chilli at its core.
The first sauce we ever produced was Purus (as featured in last month’s box). We used to make this at home many years ago when there was an absence of good chilli sauces in the UK. Whilst Tabasco sauce was easily obtained, having been treated to some great US and Belizean sauces that tasted of chilli, we wanted to keep enjoying this style of sauce in a more affordable way. The only way to do this 10+ years ago was for us to grow our own cayenne and ghost peppers and create our own home remedy. We’ve varied our range of sauces over the years but Purus has always remained.
It’s a laborious product to make as each batch requires us to manually destalk well over 25kgs of fresh cayenne and ghost peppers but we feel it’s worth the effort. Blending the beautiful sweetness of the cayenne chillies with the rich fruitiness of the ghost peppers has allowed us to develop a pure, chilli-tasting sauce with just a few basic supporting ingredients that allow the flavours of the peppers to shine. Due to this, it’s a very universal sauce that acts well as a pour on, stir in, dip and marinade. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
You’ll usually find Jay & Dave from The Chilli Alchemist at festivals up and down the country.
Check out other articles by some of the best hot sauce producers in the country here.