Q. I’d like to start using more chilis, but the varieties scare me. What’s hot and what’s not? Can you give me some direction? — Anne Marie, Omro
A. This is one hot question, Anne Marie! A chili pepper is a fruit from various plants of the capsicum (pepper) family. As you know, chili peppers range from mild and subtle to fiery and ferocious. The amount of heat in a chile pepper is determined by the concentration of capsaicin, which is the compound in chili peppers that is an irritant to humans and produces a burning sensation on almost any of our tissues.
The hotness of chili peppers is measured on (what is called) the Scoville scale, named after Dr. Wilbur Scoville, who developed a method to rate the units of heat in chii peppers. A more scientifically accurate method is used to measure capsaicin levels today, but the units are still referred to as Scoville units, in respect to Dr. Scoville.
As for uses for chili peppers, it is important to determine the level of heat for which you are seeking. Most chili peppers labeled as “sweet,” such as Sweet Bell, Sweet Banana, Sweet Pimento or Poblanos, tend to be quite mild. Chile peppers like Jalapeños, Chipotles and Serranos are slightly below the mid-point on the Scoville scale, so let’s call them “medium-hot.” Heading into what I consider the PDH (Pretty Dang Hot) category includes chili peppers like Tabasco (famed for its namesake sauces) and Cayenne (which is commonly found dried and ground as a spice).
If you really want to go crazy (the “what are you thinking?” kind of crazy), consider using chili peppers with names like Habanero, Scotch Bonnet, and Caribbean Red. You might have a hard time finding a culinary need for peppers at this intense level of heat, unless you are seeking to inflict pain.
I hope this gives you a little guidance in your chili pepper pursuit, and I wish you best of luck as things start to heat up for you!
Chef Jeff’s Beefy Garden Chili
3 lbs. fresh ground chuck
1 c. large onion, diced
6 c. fresh or canned tomatoes
1 ½ c. celery, diced
3 Tbls. fresh chopped garlic
2 c. red, sweet peppers, diced
Hot fresh peppers, diced (as desired)
¼ c. ground chili powder
1 Tbls. ground paprika
2 Tbls. ground cumin
¼ c. brown sugar
½ tsp. oregano leaves
1 Tbls. seasoned salt
3, 16 oz. cans chili beans
Shredded Wisconsin cheddar cheese (as desired)
Brown the ground chuck & the onions together. Remove any excess grease.
Add the tomatoes, celery, garlic & peppers and bring to simmer with all of the spices & salts for 30-45 minutes to allow the flavors to marry.
Stir in the chili beans. Return to simmer.
Serve garnished with diced onion & shredded Wisconsin Cheddar.
Yield: 1 gallon.