Some like it hot … And some like it even hotter – but it’s all about the taste, writes Ant Ellis.
We can thank a certain Mr Scoville, whose heat scale has given us all an instant frame of reference for our heat tolerance levels. In case you don’t know, the Scoville scale is the universal measure of the concentration of capsaicinoids in peppers and chillies, ranging from the everyday (red bell peppers) to the ones that will ruin your life (the ghost pepper and higher) and all known varieties in between.
Those of us who like a clip of heat in our food can probably handle between 50 000 and 100 000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU), around where our everyday bird’s eye chillies sit. These are way higher than jalapeños, which sit at around 2 500 SHU, but nowhere close (and so you know exactly how stupid this gets) to the hottest chilli in all creation, the Carolina Reaper – an American hybrid breed that delivers around 1,6-million SHU. Do not ever try this unless you enjoy instant regret, and bleeding from your eyes.
So why are we fascinated with the irresistible kick found in curries and peri-peri chicken? Why do we drown our eggs in Tabasco sauce and add chilli to everything at our local Italian joint? Science seems to suggest this interesting idea: The body can apparently not tell the difference between spiciness and pain, and pain is a thrill. When we eat spicy food, our brain releases endorphins – our natural feel-good chemicals – and great news, these are the very same endorphins that are released when we exercise. So fi rst things fi rst, cancel your gym contract and tuck in.
If any of y’all out there are like me and need a bottle of hot sauce on standby 24/7, the best and most cost-effective way to be prepared is to make your own. This is easier than you think, properly delicious and easily rivals what you’ll get from all those Chicken O’s out there. Once you’ve made it for the fi rst time, experiment at will.
Anto’s Peri-Peri Sauce
You’ll need a blender for this recipe, but a stick or immersion blender will work – just take the time to blend as smooth as possible. Makes about 850ml.
•2 large red bell peppers, chargrilled
•1 large onion, peeled and chargrilled
•4 cloves garlic, minced
•½ cup lemon juice
•zest of a lemon, fi nely grated
•¼ cup red or white wine vinegar
•10 red bird’s eye chillies, roughly chopped (this is to taste, go lighter or heavier to suit)
•1½ tsp paprika, sweet or smoked•1½ tsp dried oregano
•1½ tsp salt•1 tsp black pepper
•2 bay leaves
•¼ cup fresh lemon juice zest of one lemon, finely grated
•¼ cup red or white wine vinegar
•½ cup olive oil
•100ml fresh cream (optional)
Roast red peppers and quartered onions directly over your gas burner, on the braai, under the grill on full whack, or in a cast iron skillet. You’re looking for prominent char marks on the outside, not to cook them.
Roughly chop and add to a food processor or blender. Add garlic, lemon juice and zest, vinegar, chillies, paprika, oregano, salt and pepper, then purée until smooth.
Transfer to a medium saucepan, add bay leaves and simmer slowly for 20-30 minutes, then allow to cool until lukewarm. Remove bay leaves then return sauce to the food processor.
Add additional lemon juice, vinegar and lemon zest. Puréeagain, until super smooth. Slowly add in olive oil in a thin stream until you’re happy with the consistency (I like it a bit thicker), and finish with cream.
What would a delicious peri-peri sauce be without a chicken? Here’s how to quickly make your own flattie: Set the chicken breast-side down on a board, with the neck facing you. Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut alongside the length of each side of the backbone and remove. Turn it over, breast-side up and flatten with your hands.
Marinade in the sauce for at least 3 hours or overnight, and remember my golden rule: Never put a raw chicken straight onto the braai! Cook in a 170ºC oven for about an hour and finish over hot coals, basting constantly in both sessions.
Serve with charred hand-cut fries, sweetcorn, spicy rice and/or a green salad – and don‘t forget the ice-cold beers.
Until next time: There’s much more to spicy food across the world than sweating and sniffing, so there’ll be a part two of this conversation in the future. Hot, medium or mild, add some spice to your table.
Drop me a line with your ideas: firstname.lastname@example.org