Ghost Chile Madness

It’s not a disease really; wait, maybe it is… Heat and the pursuit of such in food. Not physical heat, spiritual heat. That brings us to the legendary ghost chile… It’s no longer the top puppy on the Holy Shit Ridiculous heat scale; a new kid in town has displaced it. 

My friend and fellow cook/luthier David Berkowitz brought these to mind today, so let’s have him put them in their proper place on the scale of Capsaisin Pain for you:

“A jalapeño is around 5-10,000 Scoville units ( a measure of heat). A Habanero, 100,000. The Ghost pepper, 855,000 – 1,041,427 Scovilles. Trinidad Scorpion Maruga up to 2,000,000!”

So there you have it, or, as a waiter at a serious Thai restaurant once told me, “The stars for heat aren’t additive, they’re exponential…”

It may not be the hottest, but trust me when I tell you that these aren’t for amateurs. They’re serious shit, indeed. A friend of David’s was graced with a case of these bad boys, and I pitched in on what do with them. That said, these suggestions will work for any hot chile, and if you’ve not done these things, ya aughta.

On top of being ridiculously hot, like the Scotch Bonnet, Ghost chiles are very fruity and fragrant so, with a bit of taming, they’re really nice even for the fainter of heart; brining, marinated or pickling will do the deed for us.

To brine chiles, thoroughly mix 1/2 Cup kosher or sea salt, (NEVER iodized!), with 4 cups water. You can leave the chiles whole or chop off the stem ends. Immerse fully in the brine for 24 hours, (weight with a plate if they want to float). Pour out brine, rinse thoroughly, and you can then pickle, freeze, vacuum pack, or cook them as you see fit.

To pickle, use a ratio of 1.5:2 vinegar to water, and 2 tablespoons of pickling or canning salt per quart of water. You can use white, red, or cider vinegar as you please; white will give a more sour pickle, red and cider a sweeter. If you like sweeter yet, add honey or agave nectar, but never reduce the brine ratio, so that you avoid the potential for spoiling.

For a quart jar, about a tablespoon of spices will do; use stuff like whole peppercorns, coriander, mustard seed, juniper, fennel, cumin, bay leaf, cloves, cinnamon stick – whatever floats your boat.

Bring the blend to a brief boil with whatever spices you like, then allow to cool completely before pouring over the chiles. For spices, you can add fresh or dried directly to the jar.

You can fridge pickle for quick results; just pack chiles in glass jars, cover with brine and refrigerate. Allow at least 48 hours prior to eating. For long term preserving, chiles require pressure canning techniques, which further require specialized equipment and experience; check it out here if you’re interested in learning more.

So, what else to do with a bounty of chiles? Here’re some options for ya.

1. Dry some, both whole and to grind up – just a little shot will add a lovely je ne sais quoi to many things.

2. Smoke some prior to drying as well, for your own version of chipotle.

3. Freeze some whole and raw,

4. Roast and freeze some,

5. Salt ferment some for a ghost chile sauce, Louisiana style,

6. And of course, I’d make sauce for now!

And a note to ALL – WEAR GLOVES AT ALL TIMES WHEN HANDLING THESE BAD BOYS...

Here’s my quick sauce recipe, and again, this’ll work with any chile.

6-8 Ghost Chiles
3-4 Roma Tomatoes
1 Yellow Bell Pepper
1 small sweet Onion
6-8 stalks Cilantro
2-3 cloves Garlic
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
Pinch of Sea Salt

NOTE: Feel free to roast all these for about 15 minutes in a 275° F oven, for a more intense flavor profile.

Field strip and dice chiles; leave the seeds if you’re sadistic, remove if not – It’ll still be way hot, believe me.

Rough dice all other veggies.

Throw everything into a heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat. Once the mix starts to simmer, reduce to low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until all veggies are cooked through and soft.

Remove from heat and process with an immersion or standard blender until smooth and uniform in texture.

Store in a glass jar or container. Refrigerated, it’ll last a month, easy.

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and continue to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until all veggies are cooked through and soft.

Remove from heat and process with a stick or regular blender until smooth and uniform in texture.

Store in glass, refrigerated. Will last about a month as such.

Great with chicken and pork, especially.