Posted by Fuchsia
on October 04, 2008
I promise I’ll blog about something other than chillies one of these days, but in the meantime…
One of the most popular dishes on the menu at Bar Shu, the London Sichuanese restaurant for whom I work as consultant, is 辣 子 鸡 or chicken with chillies. It’s originally a dish from Geleshan in Chongqing, and it’s guaranteed to shock on first acquaintance. A small chicken is chopped up, on the bone, into tiny pieces, marinated and deep-fried. It is then stir-fried with an improbable wokful of chillies and Sichuan pepper – so many that you have to fish around in a pile of scorched, fragrant chillies to find the pieces of chicken in the finished dish. It’s not actually as hot as it looks, and the chicken has a marvellous fragrance, but staff at Bar Shu always try to warn unwary guests that they are not supposed to eat the chillies.
Posted by Fuchsia
on October 03, 2008
At the Abergavenny Food Festival a couple of weeks ago I bought some of the hottest chillies known to man – Dorset Nagas, the offspring of a Bangladeshi chilli known as Naga Morich. They are grown by Peppers by Post, a specialist chilli farm in West Dorset, run by Michael and Joy Michaud. According to Michael, these peppers register 1,000,000 Scoville Heat Units: just to put this into perspective, Scotch Bonnets, which I always thought were rather hot, reach a mere 150,000-200,000 units.
I eyed the chillies I had bought with trepidation (they come with a warning not to leave them within reach of children or other potential unwitting victims). Finally, I chopped one in half, touched my finger briefly to its cut flesh and then tasted it. It was incredible – a searing heat, accompanied by a bewitchingly fruity fragrance. I’m glad, though, I didn’t try putting an actual piece of chilli into my mouth – that would have been overwhelming.
It reminded me of something one of my classmates at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine told me: he said there was a Yunnanese chilli called the qixingjiao (seven-star chilli) which was so hot that people just trailed it in a panful of hot oil for a few seconds to give flavour to a dish, before removing it and hanging it up for use another time. I’ve never found such a chilli in China, although I did once come across some peppers called qixingjiao in a market in Hunan (these are the ones you can see in the photograph in my last blog post) – but they were obviously something different, because their heat level was disappointingly normal.
According to Michael, Bangladeshis use this chilli green, before it has reached its peak of hotness. Only English people, determined to shock their friends, buy – and occasionally cook with – the red, ripened, scorchingly hot fruits.