Ingredient of the Month: The Smooth Heat of Chiles
By Lisa Golden Schroeder
Okay, before I start singing my praises for chile peppers, I have to settle a personal peeve. How should the word “chile” be spelled? Chile, chillie, chili? It sometimes feels rather random, but I adhere to a style rooted in southwestern cooking. When referring to the actual hot peppers, the spelling is “chile.” When referring to a blend of ingredients that includes chiles—fresh, dried, or ground—the spelling is “chili” with an “I.” Some might think I’m being arbitrary, but it’s the recipe editor in me that sets these boundaries. I’m sure you don’t care, as long as it’s clear what is being referenced. So on to declaring my love and devotion to a class of vegetable (that are actually botanical fruits) that originated in the Americas. Fresh chile peppers were discovered in the Caribbean by European explorers, but they were grown all over central and South America for thousands of years before. Carried back to Spain as a novelty, they were cultivated and spread quickly all over the world. Their spicy flavor mimicked the heat of black peppercorns, which at that time in history were highly sought after and very valuable. The versatility of chiles—sweetly flavored, yet hot in varying degrees—and how easily they grow in global hot zones, engrained them in cuisines all over Asia and India.
But back to the here and now—where a dizzying variety of chiles are easily found in just about any market. I grew up on chiles, mostly mild Anaheims (or California) chiles or dried anchos—the ripened form of the triangular green poblano chile. The value of capsicums in so many cuisines becomes clear in their taxonomy—special names for each form of each cultivar. My early cooking forays included all types of southwestern desert chiles, but in recent years there’s been a rise of varieties that I never played with as a novice cook. Chipotles (smoked and dried ripened jalapenos), the Scotch Bonnet or habanero, a tangled array of tiny Asian chiles…every continent has their favorites. The popularity of chiles as a flavor in products we buy seems to have no bounds, and in our backyard grilling culture they happily live side by side with whatever we throw on an open flame. And never-you-mind the myriad assortment of bottled hot sauces that seem to flood the marketplace (I can’t be without a bottle of Thai sriracha or the Tabasco I grew up on, which are pretty boring these days).
Not everyone likes lots of heat in their food, and that’s the beauty of chiles. You can find just the amount you like, enough to add some spice without being mind blowing. And you can tailor your cooking to everyone’s taste, by offering chile sauces, sliced pickled chiles, or a shaker of those ubiquitous red chile flakes on every pizzeria table. When dealing with fresh chiles, here’s a good rule of thumb: the larger the chile, the milder it will be. The smaller the chile, like the desert scorpion, the worse the sting! The following recipe fuses two cuisines—addictive Asian chili garlic sauce is a fast grilling baste, while the smoky pineapple salsa gets a boost from fresh Serrano chiles.
|GARLIC CHILI CHICKEN with GRILLED PINEAPPLE SALSA||
- 2 to 3 (14 ounces) Just BARE® Hand-Trimmed Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
- ¼ cup Asian chili garlic sauce
- 4 (1/2-inch thick) slices fresh pineapple
- ½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 1 to 2 Serrano chiles, seeded, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- ½ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
- Heat grill to medium-high heat. Brush chicken with some of the garlic chili paste; place on grill. Arrange pineapple slices alongside chicken. Cover and cook about 15 minutes, turning once and brushing chicken with sauce once more, until chicken is no longer pink in center and pineapple is browned.
- Remove chicken and pineapple from grill. Finely chop pineapple; mix with remaining salsa ingredients. Serve with chicken.