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Sunday, 12 June 2011

SubVersion Stop 131: Ben Kei's Dalston Chilli

"Any of you who know me in real life probably realise I have a bit of a chilli obsession" remarks Ben Kei in his SC Chilli Growing Blog first post. Whatever turns you on in the kitchen is all fine by me. I initially met him at the IChiOne 5th Anniversary (they've just had their 7th with dgoHn) where food including Chicken Satay's were provided.

What are Ben's top three favourite chillis now he's a specialist? "A top 3 is tricky really because I like preparations of chilli as much as the varieties themselves" he notes. "I love the Habanero family, the taste is incredibly fruity and smokey and packs a mean punch heat-wise. I use Scotch Bonnets to make my hot sauces because of their intense heat and flavour, and the endorphin rush I get from eating them. They really are a unique chilli but one that's not for the faint-hearted.

I get these Turkish pickled Jalapeno slices. Now they're not like your run of the mill Mexican restaurant Jalapenos, in fact I think it might be something lost in translation, because the taste and colour are different. These things are perfect in salads, on a pizza etc... versatile and always in the fridge. Finally I'll go with Thai Bird Eye chillies. They're intensely hot but without an overpowering flavour. Perfect for pretty much everything from Asian food to pasta sauces, to north African - you get the idea. And what's also great is they dry out really well and taste just as good when they're dried."

Is it a populist myth chillis always require sunlight, or does it depend upon the length of chilli as to how much radiation it needs to germinate? "For germination they don't need sun at all, just warmth. If you think about it, the seeds are underground anyway where there's no light. Warmth is vital though with some varieties not germinating at all unless they're up near the late 20'c. Put them in the airing cupboard or on top of your boiler, cover the dish in cling film too to keep the humidity up.

Once they germinate they'll need as much sun as you can give them. Too little light and they'll grow tall and weak looking for some sun. Don't over water them either or they'll either die or give you bland fruit. One of the first posts on the blog covers this is quite a bit of detail and is definitely worth a read for anyone wanting to grow chillies at home."

In the SC thread you state high hopes for the Trini Perfume shoots with lighter sauces. If you were gagging for a cig and read that as smoke an outcome, are there any particular chillis that give off great fragrances? "To be honest, you don't get much of a smell of a chilli plant. The flowers don't smell and the fruit doesn't smell when it's growing. However, if you get something like a Habanero and cut it in half, the smell can fill your house! It's something you'll either lover or hate, I'm firmly in the love camp here."

Should you be worried about how tall hybrid plants grow, and is this something to keep in mind regardless of if you stray from natural ingredients? "I've not had much luck with hybrid plants" Ben writes. "I've cross-pollinated a fair few varieties, and had some suitably mutated looking fruit but for the most part; the seeds collected from them have failed to grow. I had one that grew last year but never flowered.

I think the problem is that you need to pick varieties which are fairly similar to begin with and this can be tricky because you can't force your plants to flower at the same time."

Finally, what in Ben's view is his best recipe for Dalston chilli? "The promised recipes haven't gone up yet - I've been looking into getting certificated through the environmental health to be able to sell my sauces. Last year I tried some sauces from a company who have won a few gold taste awards and thought 'hang on, mine taste better than this'. I always knew that I liked my sauces as did people who tried them but to find out that they're better than award winning varieties made me think seriously about making a go of it as a business idea.

As for favourites, it has to be either Ben Kei's fucking hot sauce, or my tomato and chilli jam."


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