Why do we love chilli?
Why are some of us addicted to the sensation that traverses the plain of delight to pain? Studies conducted at Reading university suggests that the answer to this is because when hot chilli hits the tongue, pulses are sent to the brain which trigger both the ‘happy’ part and the part that detects pain. It seems that the happiness brought on by consuming the fiery molecules of capsaicin (the actively ‘hot’ component of chilli peppers) is enough to counteract the obvious pain that can result, especially from those chillies that register high on the Scoville scale (the scale that measures the pungency, or spicy heat, of chillies). And, as we like to do things that make us happy – we eat chilli.
Personally, I love hot seedy chilli sauce (that’s with seeds and not the delight of eating chilli in some sordid back alley) with garlic; something that was in every local street stall in Hanoi when I visited recently. However, my affinity for this delectable sauce goes back to my time in London, the memory of which came to me the other day as I smelt the chilli garlic sauce I was cooking.
I remember arriving in London as a wet-behind-the-ears young man, looking for adventure and to study. Money was too tight to mention and on arrival in England’s capital managed, by a bit of luck and a fair wind, to score a fantastic flat in Tooting thanks to a wonderful Singaporean lady. She was the landlady and lived in neighbouring Streatham. I remember going over to her place one Sunday afternoon, rocking up to a shop front from which emanated the smells of an oriental feast of herbs and spices. After being invited in for afternoon tea, and subsequently eating an array of amazing Chinese/ Singaporean home-made snacks, I was presented with a jar; a jar that can only be described as gold, frankincense, and myrrh rolled in to one – chilli garlic sauce. I had never tasted anything like this before, and the memory of the amazing peppery and garlic flavour and intense tingling sensation from the heat that bolted and somersaulted around my mouth has never left me. I later learned that this lady was a magnificent chef and had even been commissioned to provide a banquet for the Prince of Wales (Charlie to his mates) during her career.
Not until today have I tried to replicate that magical chilli sauce. So fanfares please, as I present my version of chilli garlic sauce; pleasure and eye-watering pain.
Hot Chilli Garlic SaucePrint
- ■ 900g bird's eye chillies | Tops removed. I bought these at our local Vietnamese grocers; they were just known as Vietnamese chillies, which I know to be birds eye chillies. They are nice and hot.
- ■ 18 cloves garlic | Peeled.
- ■ 2 tbsp. peanut oil |
- ■ 1½ tbsp. white sugar |
- ■ 1½ tbsp. sea salt
- ■ 100ml rice wine vinegar | This sauce is not as acidic as some bought ones – it’s more rounded in flavour. You can add more vinegar if you like.
In a food processor blitz the chillies, garlic and peanut oil until a smooth paste is formed. I process them for about 3-4 minutes.
Add the chilli paste to a pan, and then stir in the salt, sugar and rice wine vinegar and bring to a simmer over a low to medium heat. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes. Pour the resulting thick sauce in to *sterilised jars, seal them and then allow the sauce to cool to room temperature, at which point they should be refrigerated. I recommend leaving this chilli sauce for at least a week to mature. It should keep for a few months, refrigerated. With the birds eye chilli this sauce is nice and hot so use with abandon…I mean care.
*To sterilise a jar wash with warm soapy water, and then rinse well. Dry with a clean tea-towel and then put it in a preheated oven at 120 deg C (250 deg F) for 5 minutes (ensure your jar is heat proof). Remove the jar carefully from the oven and allow to cool, ensuring you don’t touch the inside of the jar.
Did you know that the main heat from chilli comes from the pith and not from the seeds?