Chillies are rad. This is a known fact. What’s not so known is that they originated in the Americas, and weren’t brought to Asia—the place people generally associate them with—until the 16th century by the Portuguese. Christopher Columbus brought a boatload back from one of his expeditions, believing it to be actual pepper. It wasn’t. Pepper at the time was spectacularly expensive, a luxury of the rich. I wonder what they thought of their first taste of chilli? (Chris C sounds like a bit of a doofus. As Bill Bryson said, ‘Though an accomplished enough mariner, he was not terribly good at a great deal else, especially geography, the skill that would seem most vital in an explorer. It would be hard to name any figure in history who has achieved more lasting fame with less competence.’)
I believe we just took a tangent from a tangent. (Yes, I know this is not mathematically possible…)
And we’re back…
Chillies are a member of the Solanaceae family, commonly known as nightshades. This family also includes things like tomatoes and potatoes, as well as tobacco, datura and cocoa. The hot stuff in chilli is called capsaicin—which is a type of alkaloid. Other members of the nightshade family contain alkaloids, like nicotine and tropanes (named after the Greek god of fate, Atropos). Thankfully, while all other alkaloids will generally kill you, capsaicin may just make you wish you were dead.
So, you still want to go on?
The fundamentals of this recipe are chilli, fruit, vinegar and salt. Substitute whatever fruit you like—tomatoes will also work. However, for this particular sauce, I used:
- chillies… a lot of chillies, including cayenne, caysan, bird’s eye, lantern, aji limon, Trinidad scorpion cardi yellow, and the big daddy—Trinidad scorpion Butch T.
Step 1. OK, first you need to grow some chillies. This may take a little while. (Technically, I believe you can also buy them…) I freeze the ones I can’t use while fresh, and when I need more sauce, I break them out.
Step 2. Take everything outside. I cook my sauce on the veranda using a portable stove. You don’t want to do this inside, unless you have some kind of hazmat suit or rocket-powered extraction fan.
Step 3. Admire your chillies; they’re really quite pretty, and this is the last time you’ll see them in one piece. The ones at the front right are the Trinidad scorpion butch Ts. Treat these with respect, or they will hurt you. They may still hurt you, even if you’re nice to them. Actually, let’s digress…
Trinidad Scorpion Butch Ts were, for 3 years, recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s hottest chilli, with one pepper measured at 1,463,700 on the Scoville scale. (By comparison, a jalapeno measures around 3,000–5,000.) I’ve sampled a piece about the size of a match head, and within about 3 seconds was violently hiccuping and pacing the veranda—like I was trying somehow to get away from it. There’s not really any other way of saying it: These things are fucking diabolical. Search YouTube for videos of idiots eating them whole.
Step 4. Start to chop the stems off your chillies, then scratch your nose and rub your eye. If you’re really game, take the opportunity to micturate.
Step 5. When the shouting stops, wash your hands thoroughly with warm soapy water and don some latex gloves.
Interestingly, capsaicin doesn’t actually ‘burn’ you. It stimulates pain receptors, but doesn’t do any physical damage. Be sure to remind yourself of this next time you stick a chilli finger in your eye—better still, remind someone else of this when they do it. I’m sure they’ll thank you appropriately.
Capsaicin also affects only mammals—this is why birds can munch down on chillies, and help to spread the seeds.
Oh, wait, we were making something, weren’t we?
Step 6. Chop all of the things, and throw them in a large pot. (The shot below is missing the garlic and cherries.) Use as many chillies as you want. Just remember, more is betterer. There would be 80–100 in here.
Step 7. Add anything else you’ve forgotten, like garlic, cherries and salt (I probably added half a tablespoon), cover with vinegar (nearly 2 litres here), and bring to the boil. I added a lemon that was lying around (remove seeds!)… Squeeze the juice in and throw in the rinds to boil…
Step 8. After boiling for about 3 minutes, turn it off and let it cool. Remove the lemon rinds with your freshly ungloved hands, throw them away, and rub your eyes again. (More interestingness—a study in 2006 found that the bite from a type of tarantula activated the same pain pathway as capsaicin.)
Step 9. Blend it all up and pour it into some clean jars. Refrigerate. Add it to everything. (I find this makes an excellent marinade for chicken when mixed with soy sauce and sesame oil.)