You never really know where you’ll end up following social media, particularly Instagram. Britain’s The Economist, a weekly magazine that calls itself a newspaper, is usually replete with solemn reports of important happenings across the globe—things like the political implications flowing from the cavernous mouth of Donald J. Trump. This week, however, @theeconomist switched the lever to vaudeville reporting on a chilli eating contest in Hangzhou, half way between Beijing and Hong Kong. There was a twist to the show: contestants sat in ice buckets, which may have cooled their outsides from the 40 degree heat, as their insides burned from the excess of capsaicin, the chemical that causes that ‘crikey, what hit me?’ sensation, when chewing on a particularly hot chilli.
We don’t know the winner of this crazy contest, but such things bring to mind a bizarre meeting of minds during a Test match between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January 2012, when the iconoclastic commentator Kerry O’Keeffe was challenged to chew on a Naga Viper chilli, rated one of the world’s hottest chillis. O’Keeffe did not take up the challenge, but threw down the gauntlet to his Indian colleague Harsha Bhogle. The resulting commentary is just what one needs at the end of a busy week!
For those who need to know these things, Wikipedia lists the hottest chills as Carolina Reaper (USA), Trinidad Moruga Scorpion(Trinidad), Bhut Jolokia (India), Trinidad Scorpio Butch T (Trinidad), Naga Viper (United Kingdom).
We particularly like the company name of the breeder (Ed “Smokin’” Currie) of the Carolina Reaper: it’s the PuckerButt Pepper Company!
More On Chillis
The joust between O’Keeffe and Bhogle is pretty much the discussions had between me and our head chef, Lesley Russell. I’m prone to add chilli to most things, but she’s wary of those little red bombs, and their murderous powder. In the upcoming Winter/Spring issue (out in September), we had a forthright debate on the merits of my need for an excess of chilli in everything (her words) and just the right amount (mine) in this chocolate chilli brownie (pictured below). The recipe includes one tablespoon of chilli powder and a dusting of cayenne pepper to boot. Lesley suggests going half way. Perhaps we’ll leave the final call to you, taking note that the soaked raisins are a superb change of pace between the intense chocolate and the heat of the chilli powder.
If, like O’Keeffe, you prefer to leave the adventure to others, the recipe—which we amended from Fourth Street Grill’s Chile Festival Brownie from a book all chilli lovers should have Red Hot Peppers, A Cookbook For The Not So Faint Of Heart (Jean Andrews, 1993, Macmillan)—works wonderfully well without the chilli. Our recipe also soaks the raisins in tea, but Fourth Street’s Grill does it in a dark Mexican beer. Once again, like all recipes, start with the base, and then play as much as you like.
The cycle never stops. This week we got to work on the Winter/Spring edition, which will feature a wonderful essay and photos by Michael Shmith, who has just spent the early English summer at his mother’s Harewood House, an 18th Century classic Yorkshire mansion in the style of Downton Abbey and/or Upstairs Downstairs. Nothing describes the luxury of life in the English class system better than Shmith’s photo of the bell alerts in Harewood’s downstairs kitchen.
Shmith’s essay will have us delving into the food of Great Britain—from Welsh Rarebit to Mrs Beeton’s Plum Chutney. Now that Great Britain has exited the EU, perhaps we’ll be seeing more classic dishes from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland shoring up the xenophobic personality of more than half the population—at least—as the Remain voters toil away at their versions of goulash, chicken curry, French Onion soup, spätzle, and lasagne!
A pat on the back
As we work away at recipes, trying, failing, succeeding, our task is made easier when we receive notes like this, from Sue Godwin, one of our subscribers:
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am loving the magazine and have been recommending it to my Thermo friends.
“I have found so many new "favourites" from your recipes, and as none of them have failed, it has given me confidence to try things I probably wouldn't have before.
“The gluten free recipes have been fabulous and help me to expand the menu. I am delighted to tell you that the 'Maggie Beer sour cream pastry' really works well with White wings gluten free flour, and I have made the French Onion tart a dozen times already. Beautiful!
“Well done with the magazine - I enjoy the articles as well as the recipes.”
Thanks to you Sue.