Chiltepe Peppers – A Little (HOT) Giant
(Originally published in Que Pasa, copyright November 2013)
When it comes to chiltepe peppers, do not let size fool you. These pint-sized capsicums, native to the southern United States and Central America, look harmless but they pack a mountain of heat that will have your eyes watering as you guzzle your cerveza in hope of some respite from the burn.
How hot are we talking? HOT. The Scoville Scale, which measures just how much heat peppers pack in terms of scientific intensity, rates chiltepe peppers between 50,000 to 100,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). For comparison, an average jalapeno is a wimpy 3500-8000 SHU. In short, if you are a heat-junky, this is the pepper for you. But fear not gentle green-pepper lovers. Scoville also says that the defining characteristic of chiltepe is that the heat comes on fast and furious, like a bull seeing red out of the shoot, but subsides fairly quickly. So if want to dip your toe (tongue) in the proverbial hot water, then chiltepe is the pepper for you.
While the attention may be focused on the chiltepe’s heat index, it is important not to overlook the beauty of the pepper itself. No bigger than a pea, they are most often picked when green but then will turn the most magnificent shades of purple, orange, pink and red as they ripen. So, not only are they one of the hottest peppers, but also one of the prettiest. They can be found at almost every market stall — one bolsita for Q1.
To use, one chiltepe pepper is the equivalent of one shot of Tabasco. Since it is very tiny, attempting to cut or chop it tends to be a challenge. Instead, the use of a blender or food processor is recommended. One of these little ones would find a nice home mixed with roasted tomatoes, cilantro, onions and lime juice in a salsa or in place of hot sauce in a Bloody Mary. Better yet, a michelada. That way your beer will be close at hand to put out the fire.
Active Time: 5 minutes, Serves 4.
1 8-ounce bottle spicy tomato juice or bloody mary mix
5-10 chiltepe peppers, stems removed
4 12-ounce bottles beer, like Corona, Gallo or Brahva
kosher or sea salt to taste and for rims
Cut one lime into 8 wedges. Run around the edge of four pint glasses with lime wedges, one per glass, then dip glasses into a shallow dish with salt. Juice remaining two limes.
In a blender, whip tomato juice, lime juice and chiltepe peppers until liquids are combined and peppers are invisible. Divide mixture among 4 salt-rimmed glasses. Fill glasses with ice and slowly pour a beer into each glass. Add salt to taste. Serve each glass with lime slices and the rest of the beer to refresh.