Meat & Heat – Cooking with Hot Pepper
One of my favorite combinations is meat and hot peppers. There is something about meat, particularly red meat, and hot peppers that I find irresistibly enticing. Like most “chile heads” I think a wide variety of foods are amenable to heat augmentation, but for our present purposes I wish to focus on meat dishes that are hot.
The Difference Between Hot & Spicy
Allow me to propose an informal distinction between “hot” and “spicy” in the interest of clarity. By “hot” I am specifically referring to chile peppers and more specifically, capsaicin, the chemical compound that gives hot peppers their fire. I think of “spicy” as spices or aromatic vegetables that are piquant, but do not contain capsaicin. Thus, black pepper and garlic are spicy while jalapenos are hot.
I see four avenues by which to incorporate hot peppers into your meat: hot chile oil, dried ground chile pepper, hot sauces, and most obviously, directly employing whole hot peppers, be them fresh, dried or canned.
Make Your Own Chile Oil
You can buy chile oil or you can easily make your own by simply adding ground hot peppers to a container of oil and allowing it time to infuse. The oil can be used as a constituent for a marinade or another sauce, or to sauté or pan-fry your meat. Or you can drizzle some on at the end as a finishing touch.
There are many varieties of pre-made, dried, ground hot pepper. Some are in powdered form such as ground cayenne and some are in flakes like the crushed hot pepper found in pizza parlors everywhere. But of course, buying whole chiles, (fresh or dried), and making your own will afford the best flavor.
If the peppers are already dried, merely whiz them in a spice grinder or food processor and then store in a jar. If they are fresh, cut them open, spread them out on a sheet tray, place them in a 200 degree F. oven overnight until dried, and then grind them.
Ground hot pepper can be added to a marinade or a spice rub applied to meat before cooking. Or you can sprinkle some in as the dish is cooking or again, use it as a condiment it at the end of cooking. Like most dried spices however, you will reap its fullest flavor if the recipe in question involves liquid and the ground chiles are allowed to slowly permeate it.
Should I Buy Store-Bought Chile Powder?
If you plan on relying on store-bought chile powder, please note that there is a difference between chile (with an “e” powder and chili (with an “i”) powder. Chile (with an “e”) powder is solely ground chile peppers. Chili (with an “i”) powder is a mixture of chile powder and other spices such as cumin, coriander, garlic, etc.
As for hot sauces, there’s basically an infinite number based on every hot pepper imaginable and in conjunction with innumerable other ingredients. Choose the one you like based on taste and heat level. Then, like hot oil or chile powder, incorporate it into a marinade, utilize it as a component for a sauce, or dispense it straight on its own, as a condiment at the table.
Buying Fresh or Dried Chile Peppers
Finally there are fresh chile peppers, whole dried chiles, and canned chiles. Fresh chiles can easily be chopped and added to a dish at virtually any point in the cooking process. Sauté them with onions and/or garlic and then adorn your steak. I also like grilled long hot peppers, left whole, with steak. Or I might sprinkle freshly chopped peppers on my meat at the table. Or let them bathe in the fluid for a braised meat dish.
Dried whole chiles are usually soaked in hot water first, and then used like fresh ones. Finely strain the fluid they soaked in with cheesecloth and then use it to deglaze a pan or as a component of a sauce or cooking liquid. Use either fresh or whole dried chiles to make your own hot sauce. Chop and boil them in a water/vinegar combo with other aromatics and/or spices and then whiz everything in a blender.
Finally, canned chile peppers, such as chipotles, (smoked jalapenos), can be used like fresh chiles. They are very hot and the sauce they are packed in, called adobo, is delicious.