Warm up this winter: Add spice to your meals | Chef Dez

By Gordon Desormeaux | Nov 16, 2016
Courtesy of: Home with Karie Engels Add a kick to your chilli recipe this winter with a few simple tricks in the kitchen.

As winter is fast approaching, now is the perfect time to add a "kick" to your menu at home.

It is very satisfying to curl up with a bowl of comfort food when the weather is blustering cold – and making it spicier will warm you up even more. Several methods and resources are available to add "fire to your fork.”

The most common – and grossly overused – way to spice up a dish is to add dried crushed chilies or dried ground cayenne pepper.

Do you know which spice jars I am referring to? They’re ones at the back of your cupboard that haven’t been replenished for years.

Maybe I'm exaggerating (slightly), but contrary to popular belief, dried spices do not last forever. They eventually loose their punch.

Replenish your stock of ground spices and herbs every 10-12 months to ensure freshness and flavor.

Bulk spice sections at supermarkets make this very manageable and cost efficient. Whole spices (not ground) will keep much longer, so the investment in a small spice grinder will go a long way.

Dried, crushed chilies are good for adding heat to a recipe, but they have a downside. Their heat doesn’t max out until they have been given time to re-hydrate and release their flavor.

Although this a good standby when you have no other available options, there are many other ways.

I absolutely love and recommend you buy a jar of sambal oelek. This is a crushed chili sauce and, therefore, needs no re-hydration. I use it in countless recipes – it’s fantastic for adding instant heat to a dish or a different dimension of flavor.

Once the jar is opened, it will last in the refrigerator almost indefinitely. It can be found in the Asian isle of almost every grocery store, sambal oelek is a must for your kitchen.

Fresh chili peppers have been ever increasing in popularity, and consequently the available varieties at the store have multiplied.

It’s important to note that peppers range in varying degrees of hotness: Anaheims are one of the milder options. Jalapeños or chipotles supply a moderate amount of heat, while scotch bonnets and habañeros are some of the hottest.

The majority of heat from a pepper comes from the seeds and the inner whitish membranes. For flavor with less heat, discard these inner portions.

When handling hot peppers, be certain to not touch your eyes or other sensitive areas.

Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly upon completion. I find that cold water and soap works the best.

If hot or warm water is used, the pores in your skin enlarge, trapping the pepper oils in your fingers.

One of the best precautions is to wear latex gloves, especially when handling extremely hot peppers.

If the thought of cooking with fresh hot peppers sounds too much like work, there are a number of hot sauces on the market to ease your preparation.

Dear Chef Dez,

Is it just me, or do you find that jalapeño peppers aren't as hot as they used to be?

-John M.

Chilliwack, B.C.

Dear John,

You are absolutely right. When I was a teenager, it was considered daring to order these fiery green rings on nachos, and downing three or four slices was a feat in itself.

I won't reveal how long ago that was, but the demand for these peppers have grown considerably over the years.

Through some investigation, I learned that many of them are now cultivated to be milder. This is done to expand the appeal of this pepper to a larger consumer market and thus increase sales.

For those of us who enjoy jalapeños really hot, we now must eat more of them, switch to hotter peppers, or find a reliable source of ones that are not modified to be milder.

Gordon Desormeaux aka Chef Dez is a chef, writer and host serving the Pacific Northwest. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Write to him at dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4.

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