Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cooking With the Feared Ghost Pepper

Available at Cub Foods on Broadway

Yes, the ghost pepper is strong enough that you must wear gloves when preparing it.

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman, except where I am in pictures.  Above photo of me taken by the Irving Inquisition.  Below photo of me taken by my sister-in-law.

Earlier this year, I heard an NPR bit about the hottest pepper on the planet, the ghost pepper, or bhut jolokia.  This little baby is so strong that farmers in India and Bangladesh - where it is native - cut it open and rub it on fenceposts to SCARE OFF ELEPHANTS.  In fact, in India, the government is actually looking at weaponizing it as a tear gas/crowd deterrent.  Do you sometimes have trouble with a jalapeno?  Well, that clocks in at about 1,000 Scoville units.  The hottest habanero can get up to 577,000.  A ghost pepper hits as high as 1,050,000 - 1,300,000.  The Scoville scale is imprecise, as the same kind of pepper can vary in hotness depending on cultivation conditions.  At times the Trinidad Scorpion pepper has measured around 1,463,000 on the scale, and could now be considered the hottest pepper in the world. "Trinidad Scorpion," which would make an excellent name for either a death metal band or a WWE wrestler.

There are peppers that are simply hot.  Then there are those that make you respect the pepper.  Finally, you have spiciness that's the equivalent of a religious experience because it makes you realize there are forces in this universe that are far more powerful than you will ever be.  The ghost pepper is one such experience.  I've tried it once before, on chicken wings in a restaurant in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan of all places.  In terms of the religious aspect, it did not disappoint.

My pastor says I make the same face when I take Holy Communion.
I turned a healthy shade of purple, I was dripping sweat from just about everywhere, the entire lower half of my face was numb, and I needed two beers to chase down six ghost pepper wings.  It was glorious.  If there is a Heaven, it might be exactly like this.  If there is a Hell, then these meals don't come with beer.

Naturally, when I saw the ghost peppers for sale at Cub on Broadway, I absolutely had to try my hand cooking with them.  There was one little problem though...
...namely, HOW TO COOK IT?  I did a fair amount of research, and most Google entries consist of discussion forums where people whine about how hot this is, youtube videos of those foolish enough to eat them whole (I'd put a link up to one, but every one I watched contained people using Very Bad Words), and websites where you can buy ghost pepper sauce.  Actual recipes are rather scarce.

We've come across this before on NoMi blogs, primarily over on Johnny Northside.  Guifiti (which is not very good, I have to admit),  bugs, and snails are just a few of the things we've tried eating with varying degrees of success.  So, in the interest of forging a new path for others to find out how to cook with ghost peppers, I picked up a pack and went to work.  I learned to cook from the grandma school of cooking, where amounts and specific ingredients are never certain, so I'm doing my best to reverse-engineer the chili:

Hawkman Ghost Pepper Chili

In one pan, saute the following ingredients:
1.5 pounds of lean ground beef  (VEGETARIAN/PETA-FRIENDLY DISCLAIMER:  No animals were harmed in the making of this recipe.  Oh, except for the cow.)  (SECOND VEGETARIAN/PETA DISCLAIMER:  for a meatless version of this same recipe, simply read this article and then continue as directed.)
1 bell pepper, minced
1 poblano pepper, minced
1 red onion, minced
10 oz. cherub tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 head of garlic
cilantro, cayenne pepper, red wine to taste
2 ghost peppers, seeded, ribbed, and minced (the recipes online called for one ghost pepper)

In a separate pot, combine the following ingredients and simmer:
5 12-15 oz. cans of varied beans (I usually go with 2 light red kidney beans, 2 dark red, and either black beans or chick peas)
Two whole tomatoes, crushed
3 dried red chili peppers
3 dried guajillo peppers
1/2 head of garlic
the contents of one Carroll Shelby's chili mix packet.  I don't add the salt from there, however.
2 ghost peppers, seeded, ribbed, and minced

(I realize I am adding four ghost peppers here.  First, I do have a rather high tolerance for spicy foods.  Second, these particular peppers were grown in California, not India.  That might have something to do with it.  Or try adding one or two as well as the seeds.)

Drain off the grease from the pan with the meat, combine the ingredients, and simmer for a while more.  (how long, you ask?  What, you can't figure out when chili is done?)  Serve with cheese and sour cream (the vegans are now calling this "cultured cow nectar.") and a side of tortilla chips or corn bread.  Have a healthy supply of beer to wash it down.

And now that I know how the ghost pepper at our local grocer tastes, I'll get more creative with other recipes.  Until then, check out Cub on Broadway for a surprising variety of rare fruits and vegetables.


  1. That chili looks hot just by glancing at the picture.WARNING! Do not stand near this man on an elevator.Screaming butt exit seeks new owner,claims of being at wit's end because of ceaseless experimenting...don't even go there.Anyhow, i gotta get some to put in my Wheaties.

  2. Yeah Boathead, I've read about the, shall we say, after effects of the ghost pepper. Even the spicier meal didn't seem to bother me (or those around me) though.

  3. Unfortunately, Cub Foods on Broadway no longer carries the ghost pepper. Maybe it's seasonal. I've talked to the manager though, because they recently stopped carrying something as basic as the red Fresno chili pepper, which in my cookbook is one of the most basic ingredients. Hopefully they'll stock that again soon.

  4. I actually have some of these in my house that I had a friend bring me from Minneapolis. Sliced and put on pizza (about 5-6 peppers per pizza) makes an amazingly hot and flavorful meal.

  5. Factual update on ghost peppers: I have since found that the Trinidad Scorpion is a separate kind of pepper from the bhut or naga jolokia. The article has been updated accordingly.

  6. "If there is a Heaven, it might be exactly like this. If there is a Hell, then these meals don't come with beer."

    Brilliant comment, made me laugh.

  7. Making ghost pepper chili today... Only using the one pepper, but I am going to give it a shot... your blog gave me the courage..

  8. For a non-jerkoff vegetarian version of this recipe substitute the meat for beans, seitan, tempeh, tofu, mock beef, burghul, lentils, mushrooms or veggies (e.g. carrots, potatoes, corn, peas, eggplant, zucchini).

  9. Haven't tried this ghost pepper chili recipe yet, but I just made a great ghost pepper concoction: Sauteed onion, celery, garlic and ghost pepper (only one) mixed with quinoa and topped with sliced green onions. Really delicious -- and yes, it was hot!

  10. So all this stuff about only using a razor slice of a ghost pepper is nonsense? I should just go for it and stick a whole ghost pepper in?

    1. That depends on a few things. First off, I almost never use the ribs or seeds of ghost peppers. Second, it depends largely on where the pepper is from. If you grew it in your own back yard, or if it was grown in the U.S. or Holland (the two non-native places I've seen on labels), it's not going to be nearly as hot as ones that are from India or Bangladesh. The climate where peppers grow plays a major role in how spicy they are.

      Even so, the ghost pepper is STILL going to be much hotter than most anything else you've tried. So if your tolerance for spice is relatively low (then what are you doing eating ghost peppers in the first place?) or if you're cooking small quantities, I'd say start off with a sliver or at most a half pepper and see how it tastes.

      I've even made chili with hotter stuff than this.

  11. Ok so all the advise I've had on only adding a tiny slice of a ghost pepper to a recipie is nonsense, I should just go for it and stick in the whole thing seeds and all?

  12. Thanks will take your advise on that one. Last thing though, where can I buy them?

    1. The ones I purchased in this blog post were at a local supermarket that's famous for carrying oddities. If you live in an urban area, I would start with places like that. Since ghost peppers are native to India and Bangladesh, I would also try an Indian shop. Or if there are restaurants in your area that serve them, ask where they get them.

      I'm about to do a new post (by Saturday at the latest) about using home-grown ghost peppers in a mojo/chimichurri sauce. This year, I have a ghost pepper plant in my garden and have a few dozen peppers from that.

  13. That's great advise, thanks so much

  14. First of all, youre talking about de seeding and taking out the vein, the interior. Jeez I can eat a Habenero like that plain and laugh. The Capsciam and "heat" is not in the skin or flesh, although even that is a bit. But the vein and seeds hold the,most heat. Be a real man, toss 4 WHOLE. Ghost pepppers in a food processor and add that to your chili. Bet you wont stand more than a few dozen bites.

  15. Hey, great looking recipe, I've been growing peppers in my backyard for several years now, usually only jalepenos, habaneros, serranos, and cayennes, but this year I finally tried the ghost. I'd heard it wouldn't take to Northern Illinois climate, but I ended up with a ton. Roasted and dried a bunch of them up, along with equal amounts of red serranos to cut the heat a bit, and I've been looking for recipes to try them in. You seem to use more beans in your chili than I do, but if they absorb some of the heat that's better than just bland bean flavor, so I'll give it a try.
    Thanks for the recipe!


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