Using Chillies in Indian Cooking
They are small, fiery varieties of capsicum of which there are over 220 known types. All these types differ in size, shape, colour and heat and there are some really amazing looking chilli plants out there.
My general rule of thumb is that the smaller the chilli the hotter it will taste but you must remember that the potency of any individual chilli (even if it's of the same variety and plant) differs because they can contain different amounts of the potent chemical which gives them their heat. This chemical is an oil called capsaicin. Capsaicin binds with the pain receptors in the mouth for heat which is why eating chillies makes our body feel like we are hot.
Different varieties of chillies contain different levels of capsaicin which is what makes some hotter than others. Red chillies contain high levels of vitamin C and this helps the body take up iron from the ingredients of a meal. Capsaicin is an effective analgesic and has been used medically for pain management
The Heat Scale
The official heat scale is called The Scoville scale, developed by Wilbur Scoville in 1912. The scale starts from a score of 0 for a sweet pepper up to over 1 million Scoville units for the bhut jolokia which is currently the world's hottest chilli. The jalepeño and chipotle chillies score between 2,500 to 10,000 and habañero and Scotch bonnet score 80,000 to 300,000 plus!
Chillies work well in sweets as well as savoury dishes: a little chilli helps to cut through the richness of the chocolate. and there is nothing like a chilli cocktail (Bloody Mary) to get your taste buds dancing.
Chillies come in many forms from fresh, to dried powder, dried whole, picked, sauces and I even have it in spray form. The dish you are cooking will determine what form you need your chilli in. From just chopping up a fresh chilli and adding to your sauce, dried chilli powder for an extra kick or to use in a marinade or a paste for a dip. Just make sure you taste your dish and do be too macho!
Types of Chillies
These are fairly large red chillies which are usually dried or in a powder form. Kashmiri chillies are known for their deep vibrant red colour and their mild, warming, smokey flavour and end to be used in Indian cooking.
This chilli variety is great for making spice pastes by rehydrating them in hot water to soften then grinding them up. When using them whole they should be treated as a whole spice and tempered in oil.
The powder is used in tandoori chicken to give the lovely red colour.
Birds eye chillies
These are small red or green chillies are extremely pungent and very hot! The originate from Mexico and are used a lot in Thai, Chinese and South East Asian cooking.
These are fat and bulbous in shape, they are extremely hot and usually orange or red in colour. I like to use these to make my Piri Piri sauce and because they have a slight fruitiness they are great for chutneys too. This chilli is similar to Scotch bonnet chillies.
Look similar to Habañero's but the flesh is slightly thicker and they are not as wrinkly. Again very hot and pungent.
Finger or rocket chillies
Long thin variety known as finger or rocket chilli are a hot green chilli. This does ripen to red but generally used when green. Typically used in Indian cooking where they are added during the cooking process to create the masala, for additional punch you would add chilli powder if required. Fresh green chillies are often eaten raw in salads or pickled in mustard oil as a spicy relish sometimes they are even fried in a batter as pakora too.
This is a red spicy powder made up by grinding dried chillies. There are many different grades of red chilli powder depending on the chilli it is produced from.
Chilli powder is used both for heat and to add a bit of colour in marinades, fillings and dry preparations. Usually fresh chilli is used during the cooking process and then additional chilli powder is added if and extra punch of heat is required.
1. Ensure you avoid contact with your eyes and any sensitive skin areas. Sometimes even washing your hands after preparing these chillies may not remove all the capsaicin so put a little oil on your hand after handling chillies and then wash your hands.
2. Prepare chillies in bulk - blend in grinder and then spoon into an ice cube tray and freeze. You can use a cube as an when needed.
3. To keep your chillies fresh for longer remove the stalks and refrigerate.
4. Freeze your chillies whole and chop them as and when you need them
5. You can scrape the chilli seeds out which helps in making the dish a little milder and stops you biting down on the seeds. I don't do this as it's a bit fiddly instead for a milder dish I just use half a chilli and chop it really finely.
6. You can only add not take away - so add sparingly let it cook then taste to see if you want to add more. The longer the chilli cooks the more the flavour and heat changes.
7. When you cook with:
- Dried chillies they will become hotter as they rehydrate.
- Fresh chillies become a little milder as they break down.
Infographic provided by Hari GhotraBack to Cooking guides