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Some Like It Hot

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - March 24, 2004 - Mark R. Vogel - Archive

See also: Why are Chili Peppers Hot?Chili PeppersChili Trivia



Recipes below
Chile peppers, with hundreds of varieties, have been cultivated since 6200 B.C.  All chile peppers get their fire from a compound called capsaicin, (kap-SAY-ih-sihn), the greatest deposits of which lie in the veins of the pepper.  The Scolville Scale measures chile peppers’ heat in increments from 500 to 400,000.  Your average jalapeno registers about 3,500-4,500 Scolville units, while the mighty habanero, the hottest pepper on earth, tips the scale at 300,000-400,000.  Chiles are available in fresh and dried forms.  A fresh chile’s dried counterpart will be somewhat hotter since dehydration intensifies the heat.  Aside from the heat, chile peppers offer a distinct flavor unequaled in the culinary world.  Moreover, they are high in vitamins A and C as well as good sources of potassium, folic acid, and vitamin E. 

     It is advisable to wear rubber gloves while cutting them. Capsaicin from the pepper quickly infiltrates the skin and can linger even after washing. I learned this the hard way one day when I put my contacts in after cutting up habaneros. Yes, just imagine shoving a needle in your eye. 

     There are countless hot sauces on the market today. Steer clear of the ultra hot ones. These super hot sauces are an intensified extract of capsaicin.  They provide dangerously high heat but a relatively low flavor yield since the heat factor is not balanced by a proportional amount of the other elements in the pepper. Thus, if each drop of the super-sauce equaled one jalapeno, you would get a greater depth of flavor from five fresh jalapenos than from five drops of the sauce. Here’s my recipe for habanero sauce, which will provide good flavor and blistering heat.



• 1 cup water
• 1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
• 1-3 fresh or dried habanero peppers, depending on how hot you like it.
• 1 large red bell pepper
• 1 tablespoon paprika
• 1 teaspoon cumin
• 1 teaspoon salt

Chop up the bell and habanero peppers, (or grind the habaneros if using dried).  Bring all of the ingredients to a boil, and then simmer for 8-10 minutes.  Finally, puree the mixture in a blender.  Here are some recipes you can use it in. If you want to try these recipes but don’t want the heat, just eliminate the habaneros from the sauce mixture.  You will still have a delicious red bell pepper sauce.



    • 1 pound flank steak
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 large onion
    • 5 cloves garlic
    • 6 roasted poblano peppers, (or bell peppers if you can’t find poblanos).
    • ½ cup chopped cilantro
    • 1 batch of habanero sauce
    • Salt & pepper to taste

First, roast the peppers in the broiler and then peel and remove the seeds. To roast peppers, place your broiler pan as close to the flame as possible and fully heat before adding the peppers.  You want fast, intense heat to char the skin but not the underlying flesh. Turn the peppers as each side turns black.  Then place them in a covered container to allow them to steep.  After cooling the seeds and stems can be easily removed. Place the peppers aside and continue with the recipe.

Pound each side of the steak with a meat tenderizer and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sear each side in a sauté pan in the oil.  The moment it’s browned flip it, and then remove it as soon as the other side is browned. Set the steak aside. In the same pan, sauté the onions and roasted peppers until just soft and then add the garlic.  Sauté 1-2 minutes and then add the habanero sauce and half of the chopped cilantro.  Simmer briefly. Add the steak and continue cooking until desired doneness, (medium rare is just moments away).  Add the remaining cilantro at the end. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with warm tortillas for dunking in the sauce. 


    • 2 whole chicken legs (thighs attached), skin on for flavor, off to reduce fat.
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil.
    • 2 medium onions, chopped.
    • 6 poblano chiles, roasted, skins and seeds removed.
    • 2 jalapeno peppers, chopped.
    • 1 large tomato, chopped.
    • 4 garlic cloves, chopped.
    • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
    • 1 pint chicken stock or canned chicken broth.
    • Half batch of habanero sauce
    • Juice of one lemon
    • 1  teaspoon ground achiote seeds. (Grind the seeds and then sift through a sieve to remove large particles).
    • 1 teaspoon salt.
    • 1 teaspoon cumin.
    • 1 teaspoon paprika.
    • 1/2 teaspoon coriander powder.
    • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

Sauté chicken in oil for about 5 minutes on each side or until browned.  Remove the chicken and sauté the onions and jalapenos until just soft. Add the chicken and all of the remaining ingredients except the poblanos and half the cilantro.  Bring to a boil and then simmer, partially covered for 20 minutes or until the meat reaches 170 degrees. Turn the chicken halfway through and add the roasted poblanos (to prevent them from being overcooked). Add the remainder of the cilantro at the very end and extra salt if needed. Once again, serve with warm tortillas. 


    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • 2 large potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin
    • 3 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 lb chorizo sausage, sliced
    • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 batch of habanero sauce
    • Salt & pepper to taste.

Sauté the onions and potatoes in the oil until they start to soften. Add the chorizo and continue sautéing until everything is almost cooked. Add the garlic and sauté one minute. Then add the sauce and simmer for a few more minutes.  Do I have to mention the tortillas?


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