Hello! This article will be using habanero as the ‘test’ subject, but the overall process works with other peppers, as they all have the same hot-spicy-pain causing ingredient, capsaicin. But I love the flavor of habanero peppers. It is truly unique, and I’ve read that habaneros are genetically different than all other peppers. The problem is, I can’t eat them raw. Ok, so sometimes I can, but most of the time it just means long lasting pain. So it is a love hate relationship. This post will deal with food preparation that is a bit more extreme than fermenting…..
How hot are habaneros?
Habaneros are one of the hottest naturally occurring peppers according to the Scoville Scale. Ranking near the top before the insane hybrids started showing up like the Carolina Reaper.
Some of my taste buds are in love with them, but the rest of me tends to react like I’ve drank a vile of acid! In this guide I will tell you how to remove the heat (nearly completely, depending on your taste), but still retaining the flavor. The process is more complex than just removing seeds, but if you are planning on making a large batch of chili and want to change the flavor, then it isn’t too much trouble to prep these ahead of time some night. I only spend probably 20 minutes of actual work doing this process. The bulk of the time is just waiting, during which I will find something else to do (but have my timer on my phone set!).
Since this entire process requires the peppers to soak in liquor, don’t feed any of this stuff to your kids. I shouldn’t have to write these lines, but people nowadays…. So, let me repeat. Don’t feed these ‘toned down’ peppers to people under 21.
Habanero peppers (I usually use 4-8)
Cutting board (large enough to contain all of them)
Your favorite (cheap) 80 proof liquor (40% alcohol ABV)
I generally use cheap whiskey – you’ll see why in a bit.
Latex Gloves – THIS IS CRITICAL
Whole milk, just in case
Before you get started…
I would advise you to buy a jug of whole milk, and have it available. Trust me – it is always better to be prepared. I’ve never had any chili burns by carefully following this process, but hey – stuff happens sometimes. If you taste test the habanero and it is too hot, or you accidentally get some on your hands and they burn – use milk. The milk will break down the capsaicin a bit, and sooth your mouth or hands. Water will just spread the capsaicin around.
Also, be very careful in cutting the peppers. Be careful of what they touch, and what you touch while wearing the latex gloves. I have regular eye glasses that would protect me from spray, and for habaneros I’ve never seen any juice ‘squirt’ out, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, if you have some safety glasses available, it isn’t a bad idea to put them on. Pepper juice would probably burn pretty bad in your eye.
The process………Tone down the spice on those habaneros!
To begin, wash your peppers. I generally soak them in a bowl for a while so that any dirt softens. Then just rub them down in your fingers to remove any dirt. Pretty straight forward and simple.
Next, put on latex gloves. Do not skip this step. Getting the juice of the pepper on your hand will result in discomfort. Rubbing your eye with that hand will result in a whole lot of pain. Going to the bathroom after touching the raw insides of a habanero…….well I don’t even want to speculate what THAT feels like.
Did you put on the latex gloves? No? DO IT.
Now slice and butterfly the peppers with your paring knife. I generally cut the tops of, then carefully cut around the inside of the habanero to remove the seeds/rind. At this point, if you are a gardener, you can set aside the seeds from one of these to dry/store for planting next Spring.
Then, split the peppers in half, and possibly quarter them. The point here is that you need the pepper to lay flat on a cutting board for the next step.
Now, lay the pepper flesh flat on the board, with the inside facing up. You know take the spoon, and gently scrap the inside wall of the pepper. On the inside of the pepper, there are many small ‘blisters’ that contain capsaicin. Pressing/dragging the spoon along this wall should burst most of these blisters, making it easier to rinse/dissolve the capsaicin in the next steps.
Now rinse the peppers first with olive oil, then in a sink, taking care to not splash the water outside of the sink. The oil does a great job at dislodging the capsaicin.
At this point we will do the ‘magic’. Place your now quartered, rinsed peppers into a glass that is large enough to hold them. Then, add your liquor to this glass so that all of the pepper is submerged. The capsaicin will be dissolved by the alcohol, and over time the spice level will drop more and more.
Now – set the timer. I generally set it for about 1 hour, as this removes much of the heat, and that seems to be the right amount for me. But – if you like it less hot, let it soak longer. It might serve you well to just remove one piece, cut a small part off and take a bite to see if you think it is still too spicy. Once the pepper is tempered to a level you like, remove them from the glass with liquor. And set them on a plate, or in a bowl and use immediately or store until you are ready to cook, etc. I think after 3-4 hours the heat is completely gone. But I’ve never let them soak for more than an hour and a half.
You can test the spice level throughout the soaking time. Just use a fork to pull one pepper slice out and taste it. But have some milk nearby if you think it might still be too hot!
Now, remove the peppers using a fork into a bowl. Then just rinse in cold water for a minute or two, and you should be done! Eat, or store for later use.
About that liquor……
So now you have peppers either on the stove, in salsa, or in the fridge – and that’s great! But you have a glass of whiskey that has just been soaking habaneros for a long time………what to do??? If you like spicy food, and enjoy the occasional drink (and are 21 years of age in the USA), then save that liquor! I save my liquor in a resealable beer bottle, and just keep it in my liquor cabinet. It should last as long as 80 proof (40%abv) liquor lasts, which as far as I know is forever.
So how do you drink Habanero Whiskey?
On the rocks, of course! Just kidding – I can’t see James Bond being able to handle this drink shaken or stirred – this would be more for a “Rambo” type action hero.
But every now and then I will take a taste on the weekend – but only a teeny tiny amount. I will take a shot glass and fill it about 1/4 of the way, so about 0.25 oz (7 ml). And oh my – does it kick! Although with this it isn’t the alcohol, but the spice! When I drink it I can actually feel it in my toes. But here is the best part – the spice doesn’t linger too long in your mouth. Anyone who has tasted habanero peppers before will know that if you get some heat, it tends to stick around in your mouth for a long time. But I have found that the spice in the whiskey seems to go away very quick – almost as fast a stiff horseradish. For me, the liquor is a great bonus of this entire process!
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