We have all experienced it. You place the food in your mouth; you like the taste and it isn’t too spicy; you swallow it and take another bite; the heat begins to build… and build … suddenly you are regretting your choices. A deep regret that a glass of water will do nothing to placate. Your mouth is on fire.
The flavour profiles of chilli peppers is one of their most interesting traits. Some chillies are like an explosion of fire that is rapidly extinguished and then you are fine, some warm slowly to an uncomfortably hot level before reducing to a more manageable experience and then there are the slow burners. These hit you in the back half of your mouth. They start with nothing and rapidly grow in spiciness – the ghost pepper (bhut jolokia) takes almost 30 seconds to start heating your mouth to a level which can lead to excessive sweating, shortness of breath, flushing, crying etc. and this level of heat can hang around for over half an hour!
Capsaicin is the “active ingredient” in chillies – it’s what makes them hot. The capsaicin binds to the receptors in your mucous membranes – this is why it affects the nose as well as the mouth – and stimulates the same response as burning. Exposure to concentrated capsaicin causes irritation to the skin – inflammation and itchiness – which is why capsaicin is used in some forms of pepper spray. The hydrophilic nature of capsaicin means that water will do nothing to alleviate the affects. The best way to get it off your skin is by rubbing with some sort of oil and then washing with large quantities of soap as the soap will emulsify the water and capsaicin allowing it to be rinsed off.
The most interesting hot sauces on the market employ many types of chilli. This gives their flavour a level of complexity that is not present if only a single variety is used, as the heat can come in waves. There is the added benefit that chillies have different flavours apart from their spiciness; some chillies are sweet, some are nutty and some are fruity. Mixing your chilli types in a dish is a great way to personalise it to your palate. The primary flavours in the recipe below are chilli…and black pepper – it is spicy. Pepper – as I have said before – produces a very different heat to that achieved from adding chillies to a dish. The active ingredient, piperine, is far less aggressively hot than capsaicin but gives a far more warming flavour. Of course too much warmth still feels like burning but with a well balanced dish, this shouldn’t be an issue.
The recipe below was originally taken from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. I have refined it a little to suit my personal taste but it is relatively true to the original. I hope you enjoy.
Back Pepper Tofu
Time: 30 minutes
½ tsp salt
6 medium shallots
3 tbsp finely chopped ginger
6 medium garlic cloves – crushed
4 finely chopped red chillies (you can choose mild chillies to super spicy ones depending on the heat level you wish to achieve)
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
1 ½ tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp black peppercorns
½ tsp pink peppercorns (these can be replaced by black ones if you prefer)
8 spring onions, finely sliced
Press the tofu. This involves cutting it into slices and wrapping them in a cloth before placing weight on top to squeeze out the excess liquid. It will help give the tofu a firmer texture.
Combine the salt and cornflour in a large bowl.
Cut the tofu into cubes and toss these in the cornflour/salt mixture to coat.
Fill a large frying pan with half a centimetre of oil and fry the tofu on all sides until it is crispy.
Set the tofu aside and drain the oil out of the pan – I like to filter it into a jar and keep it for deep frying at a later date.
Finely slice the shallots into half-moons.
Melt the butter in the frying pan and add the shallots, garlic, ginger and chillies.
Lightly fry for about ten to fifteen minutes until the garlic is cooked and the shallots are soft.
Grind up the peppercorns. You can either do this using a normal pepper grinder or using a pestle and mortar (I prefer the latter).
Stir the peppercorns and sugar into the soy sauces in a bowl and then add this to the shallots.
Allow to bubble away for two minutes to combine all of the flavours.
Tip the tofu back in and stir to cover the tofu in sauce.
Continue to cook until the tofu has been sufficiently reheated.
Stir through the finely sliced spring onion and serve.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are a fan of tofu, you should definitely check out my recipe for ginger tofu or even my teriyaki recipe.
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a flaky pastry which will easily outshine the ones you can get from the supermarket.