I love that feeling you get when the first embers of a nice and spicy sauce start to fire up the synapses on the tongue, building into a crescendo of flames before the endorphins kick in and start working their serene and calming magic.
Wherever we go, if I see a hot chilli sauce – or rub, or powder, or pickle – that I’ve not sampled before, I have to buy it and give it a test drive.
On Sunday just gone, I was in paradise. The great East Midlands Chilli Festival was in town, so I got to troop my long-suffering other half and our daughter from stall to stall, trying every last fiery delight until my tongue was burned out, before settling on some booty to bring back.
I got three distinct and different jars of the fieriest sauces I could find and plan to review them here at some point in the future, so we’ll leave it there for now.
Because the main point of this post is not what I bought at the weekend, but what I made last week, when I came across these little bad boys in the supermarket.
Officially certified the hottest in the world and packing a whopping two million Schoville, they may look cute and harmless, but they could bring down a rhino at five paces.
Now, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of chilli beer and whether or not it’s possible to create one that sates my need for heat without ruining the whole beer drinking experience.
I’ve tried various alcoholic concoctions laced with capsaicin in the past, with varying effects, and overall, find the drinking experience too weird to be enjoyable.
Even in its mildest form, any drink which instantly sets the palette aflame – soup excepted – doesn’t really float my boat.
So, with chilli beer firmly off the menu, my plan was to tackle it from another angle instead… after all, if the chilli won’t make the beer, why not see if the beer can make the chilli?
Now, a big component of my basic hot sauce recipe, regardless of whatever chillies I may have to hand, is having something sour to balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes, the heat of the chilli and the fragrance of the spices.
It usually takes the form of the juice and rind of a couple of lemons, limes or even grapefruit, depending on what looks fresh and juicy in the store.
On this occasion, it was two whole lemons and two whole limes, juiced, to start off the boil. Added to that, a half-litre of passata, a proprietary mix of the three Cs… that’s cumin, cardamom and coriander, and a liberal dose of chopped Trinidad Scorpion Chilies (four whole packs, to be precise).
Then came the beery twist – courtesy of some of the used hops left over from my latest brew. I went with the Citra, given their fresh and citrussy fragrance and high alpha content, which would hopefully lend a bitter dimension to the overall recipe.
The resulting brew was more fragrant and less hoppy than I was expecting, more like a very delicate lemon tea than a full-bodied IPA, but a pleasant aroma nonetheless.
It had no chance of standing up to the big, bold flavours of the tomatoes, citrus and spices – and, of course, the chillies – in the finished product, but the aim was to enhance, rather than overpower, the other ingredients.
The rest of the process was simple, just cooking it out until the sauce was the consistency of thick ketchup, before allowing to cool and spooning it into a kilner jar to chill… after a crafty sample, of course.
No… I had the merest scraping of sauce on the corner of a tortilla chip and my mouth was on fire instantly.
Despite the heat, though, the floral notes from the chillies cut through the sourness from the lemons and limes, while the hops lingered on the nose.
Three hours later, it still felt as if I’d licked a hot iron.
All in all, a job well done – perhaps too hot to eat on its own as a dip or a sauce, but excellent for adding extra punch to a curry, bolognaise or, of course, a chilli con carne.
It will be fun finding a decent beer to go with it – I’m thinking a nice, fragrant Saison or a hoppy IPA… any suggestions, folks?