Ways to spice up your winter meals

Several resources are available to add ‘fire to your fork’

BY CHEF DEZ

The winter months are fast approaching and are the perfect time to add a little ‘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 accomplish adding ‘fire to your fork’.

The most overused methods of spicing up a dish is the addition of dried crushed chilies or dried ground cayenne pepper.

Do you know which spice jars I am referring to?

The ones that have not been replenished for years. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating (slightly), but contrary to popular belief dried spices do not last forever. They eventually loose their punch.

Always replenish your stock of dried spices and herbs approximately every 10 to 12 months for ground spices/herbs to ensure freshness and flavour stimulating ability.

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 producing traits are not fully developed until they have been given time to re-hydrate and release their flavour. Although this a good standby when you have no other available options, there are many other ways.

One product I absolutely love and recommend is Sambal Oelek.

This is a crushed chili sauce product, and therefore needs no re-hydration. I use it in countless recipes and it’s fantastic for adding instant heat to a dish or a different dimension of flavour.

Once the jar is opened it will last in the refrigerator almost indefinitely. Available in the Asian/Import food aisle of almost every major grocery store, this product is a must for your kitchen.

Fresh chili peppers have been ever increasing in popularity, and consequently the available options in produce sections have multiplied.

They range in varying degrees of hotness with Anaheims being one of the milder options.

Jalapenos or Chipotles supply a moderate amount of heat with Scotch Bonnets and Habaneros being some of the hottest. The amount of heat that a pepper provides is measured scientifically in Scoville units developed by a Professor Wilber L. Scoville in 1912.

The majority of this heat comes from not only the seeds, but the inner whitish membranes as well. For flavour 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 using 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 jalapeno peppers aren’t as hot as they used to be?

John M.

Chilliwack, BC

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 jalapenos 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.

Chef Dez is a chef, writer, & host. Visit him at www.chefdez.com. Write to him at dez@chefdez.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, B.C. The postal code is V2T 6R4.