We invite Jay from the Clifton Chilli Club (previously from the Chilli Alchemist) to spread some of his words of 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 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.
You’ll usually find Jay from the Clifton Chilli CLub at festivals up and down the country.