My friend Paula has been teaching me some basics of Mexican cooking and one of the ingredients she loves working with are jalapeÃ±o chili peppers. In fact, as a snack, she likes to slice them up and eat them with a little salt and fresh lemon juice like they were Bonbons. I try a piece and I end up with the hiccups.
Last week we were working on a fresh tomatillo salsa that Paula has made for me in the past and is now a staple in my fridge. It is so versatile. You can put it on just about anything you want to spice up with a little flavor like roast chicken, fish, pork tenderloin. This sauce is perfect for tacos, tamales, and tortillas or as a simple dip for corn chips. I'll post a recipe for tomatillo salsa later this week.
Just a few ingredients in Paula's tomatillo salsa and one of them is the jalapeÃ±o pepper. I noticed one week we added six jalapeÃ±o peppers to one pound of tomatillos and the next week just two jalapeÃ±os. I asked why and she said the two jalapeÃ±o peppers were much hotter than the six other ones.
Of course I asked her how she could tell without cutting open the peppers and tasting them. She told me she does it by looking at them. It seems that jalapeÃ±o peppers get hotter as they get older and the older they get, they change in appearance.
When young, they are smooth, uniformly green and less hot but as they get older they start to develop striations or lines in the outer skin. You'll also start seeing little white lines and white flecks in the skin as shown in the photo above. According to Paula, these should be hotter and sure enough the version of tomatillo salsa made with these two older jalapeÃ±os was hotter than the batch we made with six.
Does that mean you can't find really hot jalapeÃ±os with smooth skins? I don't think so. I'm sure there are some jalapeÃ±o peppers that are perfectly smooth that are really hot but just imagine how hot they are going to be when they age some. Supposedly red jalapeÃ±o peppers are at their ripest and most hot. I stay away from them so I have no idea.
Hotter In Refrigerator?
When I asked Paula if the peppers getter hotter with age in the refrigerator, she said they do. I'm not a food scientist but I did purchase a few jalapeÃ±o peppers and watched them over the course of a couple weeks and can say yes, they do develop the white lines and striations as they age and yes, they were much hotter.
Don't take my word for it. If you like hot, spicy foods try this experiment for yourself and see what results you get. I would love to hear about what you find out.
And when shopping, you now can pay attention to the bin full of jalapeÃ±o peppers and have a better chance of picking out the hot ones if that's your goal.