HOT STUFF

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Hot stuff-1.pdf - Jenny Linford

itish chillisHOTSTUFFFrom our traditional love of mustard to the growing number of Britishchilli farms to the first fresh wasabi grown in the UK, Jenny Linfordtraces our fascination with hot ingredients53


itish chillisWe’ve long enjoyed foods with a hotand spicy kick to them – fromtraditional ‘devilled’ dishes to ourlove affair with curries. Ourfascination with the hotingredients with which to spiceup our eating continues unabated.Mustard is, of course, a traditional source of heat inBritish cooking, adding a kick to everything fromsausages to the Sunday roast beef. “The Romansintroduced mustard to Britain,” explains Guy Tullberg ofTracklements, the condiments company. “Not only doesmustard have a distinctive flavour, it grows veryvigorously so a Roman solider could carry just a handfulof mustard seed and get a great return.”Guy’s father, William Tullberg, started Tracklements in1970 and his very first product was a grain mustard. “Paread a recipe for mustard in John Evelyn’s diary andstarted making mustard the traditional way. At that time,olive oil was only sold in Boots, so the idea of a Britishgrain mustard was very unusual,” points out Guy. WilliamTullberg’s ‘Original Mustard’ is still proudly made byTracklements, who go to a lot of trouble and effort tosource British mustard seed.“We always think one of the most importantingredients we put into our products is time,” says Guythoughtfully. “We grind from whole seeds and wholespices and – the key thing – is we put into barrels andleave the mixture there for five to seven days, stirring itevery day. In the 42 years since my father startedTracklements, we’re on only the seventh mustard maker;it’s a very skilled process and you need somebody whoknows what they’re doing.”Tracklements also produce another condimenttraditionally used to add a kick to food in Britain –horseradish and cream – made from the horseradishroot. “It’s thought that our Scandinavian invaders, theVikings, introduced horseradish to Britain. Again it’s aprolific grower. When we started doing horseradisharound 30 years ago, there were very few people whogrew it. We think we’re one of the bigger users of UKhorseradish. I think horseradish has a wonderful flavour– it’s great with roast beef. I also like to make pastawith smoked salmon and cream and a generous dollopof tasty horseradish.”Best of BritishNowadays, fresh chillies and a range of chilli sauces areincreasingly available in our supermarkets and foodshops, but this wasn’t always the case. Companies likePeppers By Post, Cool Chile (specialising in Mexicanchillies) and Hotheadz were early pioneers in promotingchillies in the UK.Husband-and-wife team Michael and Joy Michaud –both with a background as scientists in agriculturalresearch - started their mail-order fresh chilli businessPeppers By Post in 1994, growing chilli peppers on SeaSpring Farm in Dorset. “Chillies are easy to grow inBritain if you have the right facilities,” explains JoyMichaud. “They’re tropical plants requiring 27 degreeswarmth and as much sunlight as possible. We only sellvarieties which we know are good. To know they’re goodwe have to grow them over years, grow them at differentseasons, cook them and taste them.”In 2006 the Michauds made news around the worldwith the discovery that they’d grown one of the hottestchillies ever recorded – the Dorset Naga, a variety whichthey’d grown over six years, developing it from theBangladeshi Naga Morich chilli. In fact, they hadn’t beentrying to grow a super-hot chilli, just develop a Nagawhich they liked. “It began to dawn on us that this chilliwas exceptionally hot,” laughs Joy, “so we sent it to theStates to get tested and the guy – who’d been testingchillies all his life – phoned us to say he’d never had achilli that hot before!”The Michauds’ Dorset Naga chilli measured an averagescore of 923,000 Scoville heat units while, at the time, theworld record was held by the Red Savina with around570,000 heat units. “When you go to an Indian restaurantnow, you’ll often see ‘Naga’ dishes on the menu and hearpeople talk of Naga,” observes Joy happily. “Until theDorset Naga came along, that word simply did not exist inthe English language.”Michael Michaud finds it rather ironic that Peppers ByPost is associated with a ‘superhot’ chilli. “The messagewe’re trying to get across is that chillies are not just aboutheat, they are also about flavour,” he points out. “Wechampion mild chillies – like our Apricot habanero, whichhas virtually no heat, but a really nice aroma – and alsothe large, thick-fleshed, vegetable-type ones like theHungarian Wax, which are so versatile culinarily.”Turn up the HeatStuart McAllister, who founded Hotheadz in 1994, was thefirst to import so-called ‘superhot’ sauces from Americainto the UK. “I was intrigued by the gaudy labels and thehumorous names and then, when I tasted them I washooked. When you eat a hot chilli sauce, the capsaicin inthe chilli gets on your tongue and the pain receptors sendmessages to brain saying ‘ouch, I hurt’ and your brainthen floods the body with natural painkillers calledendorphins,” he explains. His website now sells over 900products “we even have habanero gummy bears!”With his intriguingly-named Trees Can’t Dancecompany, founded in 2006, former travel photographerDan May has turned his personal interest in both cookingand chillies into a successful chilli product business. “Igrew a big batch of chillies in a polytunnel inNorthumberland – at the time it was the world’s mostnortherly chilli farm – and then made them into sauces.The first sauce was a carrot and lime hot sauce, based onones I’d tried in Central America. I went to the localfarmers market in Hexham and on the first day I soldabout £800 worth which made me think there was abusiness here.”Rather than growing chillies, Dan now uses his culinaryskills to develop new chilli products. “We want to makeproducts with a fantastic flavour. One of my favourites isthe Flaming Lips sauce, which has the sweetness of roastgarlic in addition to the heat of chillies and nicelybalanced spicing.”He’s currently “fascinated” by chilli pastes. “Thesepastes – like the Caribbean Jerk Paste - are great for ahome cook and what I love about them is that we makethem using all fresh ingredients and they improve asthey’re stored in a jar.” Friends visiting Dan’s house for ameal invariably expect him to cook with chillies.“They don’t just expect one dish, they want four or fivedifferent dishes with chillies in them, but I love cookingwith chillies so that’s fine.”Hot SpotsFor those interested in finding out more about thewonderful world of chillies, then West Dean Gardens’sChilli Fiesta – a celebration of chillies held each year inAugust at West Dean in West Sussex – is well worth avisit. “Following the restoration of the glass houses here,we had our first Chilli Fiesta in 1996,” reminisces WestDean’s Gardener Sarah Wain, “and there were only fouror five stalls. Now we have around 150 stallholdersattending and thousands of visitors. We were the originalchilli event in the UK - the original and the best!”Followers of hot flavourings in the UK are now able tosample a distinct novelty – fresh wasabi (often calledJapanese horseradish) which – for the first time – is nowbeing grown in the UK. “No one had ever grown it in theUK before,” explains Jon Old, project manager for TheWasabi Company (owned by The Watercress Company).“Top Japanese restaurants in Britain like Nobu import itin fresh from Japan. Other restaurants simply use wasabipaste or wasabi powder, which actually contain a verysmall amount of wasabi.”The idea for the project came about when a chefvisited one of the company’s watercress farms andcommented that it was the right conditions in which togrow wasabi, which traditionally grows alongsidemountain streams. “We looked into it and decided to giveit a try. It was very hard to get information on how togrow it; it’s very much a closed shop. We finally got holdof plants and have been growing them ourselves for threeyears now – it takes two years to cultivate the rhizomes.It was a nerve-racking process as you’ve got to get thewater flow just right; our growers were very committedto the project.”When, a few months ago, they were finally able toharvest their first wasabi rhizome, it was an excitingmoment. “We couldn’t wait to try it. There’s a ritual topreparing it though. You have to grate the wasabi using aspecial, blunt-ish grater, which makes it into a paste. Thefirst real test, though, was to see what a chef thought ofit, so we took it to Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons where theExecutive Head Chef Gary Jones thought it was great. Heeven grabbed Raymond Blanc out of a meeting to comeand try it, who told us it was nice and sweet.”Having succeeded in their quest to grow it, The WasabiCompany is seeing chefs react with enthusiasm andinterest to this new offering. “Grating the wasabi breaksdown cell walls within the plant and causes a reactionwhich creates the flavour,” explains Jon. “About fiveminutes after grating is the optimum time to eat it, asthat’s when you get both the pungency and thesweetness. The sweetness is the big difference aboutusing fresh wasabi, rather than just a processed powderor paste.”Steve Drake of Drake’s, a Michelin-starred restaurantin Ripley, Surrey, is one of a number of chefs enjoyingexperimenting with fresh wasabi. “It’s got a lovely flavour.I’ve made Scottish venison loin served with a Jerusalemartichoke puree. We grate wasabi into the puree and overthe venison and serve it with a Cabernet Sauvignon jelly.Our customers are amazed to see ‘Dorset wasabi’ on themenu; they think we’re joking!”54


Our customers are amazed to see ‘Dorset wasabi’ on the menu; they think we’re joking!DAN MAY © TREES CAN'T DANCE© TREES CAN'T DANCE55© PEPPERS BY POST

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