It is HOT HOT HOT out. Ninety degree weather has finally hit us, so naturally that means time for a hot and spicy dish, right? Right! Interestingly enough, hot and spicy foods are very common in warm climates because of their perspiration-invoking qualities. Ever notice how you get warm when you eat those spicy chicken wings or jerk chicken? Well, sweat is your bodies’ natural cooling system, so spicy food will actually help your body cool itself down! Make sense, especially when you think about all the food and recipes that are native to their hot climates, like the aforementioned jerk chicken (Jamaica) or the Habanero chili, which is native to the Amazon region in South America, and then spread throughout Mexico (thanks Wikipedia!).
The Habanero is often thought of as one of the hottest peppers in the world, but it has nothing on the Bhut jolokia or ghost pepper. You can read all about the chili here. Although the ghost pepper chili is not the hottest chili in the world, it registers over one million on the Scoville scale, which measures a pepper’s heat. I like spice, but I am not brave enough to try one of these babies! My grandfather is a total pepper head, and I remember being over at their house as a little girl while my grandfather was making his tomato and hot pepper sauce. I didn’t know it was the hot version, and when he wasn’t looking, I reached over and grabbed a butter knife and licked the sauce off. I remember the near instantaneous tears and begging my mom to do something to take the pain away. Luckily lots of water and plain bread later, I was no longer saddled with a burning tongue. Thank goodness my tastes have evolved since I was a kid!
This dish does not utilize the Bhut jolokia, but it does use three different types of heat: a Fresno chili (a fruity, hot flavor), sambal oelek (chile garlic paste), and hot chili oil. The original recipe called for a thai chili but I wanted to temper the heat just a bit, and the Fresno is a really nice balance of fruity and hot. I also add in shredded carrots and thinly sliced cucumber for some sweetness and the cucumber helps to temper the heat, but you can omit those for a less salad-y main dish. Totally up to you.
This dish can be made a day ahead of time, minus the cilantro. Add that right before serving. You can serve with with some tender lettuce, pile the leaves high with a scoop of the chicken mixture a la a lettuce wrap, and enjoy the spice! This is delicious at room temperature or right from the refrigerator. If you are brave enough, you can substitute a hotter chili like the Habanero if you desire. Just wear gloves. Heat seekers, unite!
spicy ‘ghost’ chicken with cilantro and ginger.
inspired by epicurious.
2 chicken breasts (about 3/4-1 lb.), boneless and skinless
1 teaspoon chile garlic paste
2 teaspoons hot chili oil
1/2 small fresno chili, finely diced (about 1 teaspoon)
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup fresh cilantro, stems removed and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 carrot, shredded (optional)
1/2 english cucumber, thinly sliced (optional)
1 small head of tender lettuce (ex. Boston), for serving (optional)
Heat a saucepan with water until boiling. Poach chicken breasts until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from pot; set aside.
While chicken is cooking, get a large bowl and combine chile garlic paste, hot chili oil, fresno pepper, ginger, garlic and salt and mix to combine. If using, shred carrot using a food processor of large hole grater. Put carrots in a paper towel or clean kitchen towel and squeeze to drain any excess water. Add carrots and cucumber to sauce mixture.
Roughly chop or shred cooled chicken breast (should be slightly warm or at room temperature). Add into bowl and mix well to combine flavors. If serving immediately, add in cilantro and mix to combine. Serve immediately with lettuce or refrigerate. Can be made up to one day ahead of time, sans cilantro. Serves 4 as a main dish.
**Please use organic ingredients wherever possible**