Not too long ago, I was at a conference in Cancun. The last night featured a buffet. I’m very picky and I was looking for the right food. It was outdoors and the sun had set. The food wasn’t well lit and it was difficult to see what I was putting on my plate. At one station, there were some roasted vegetables. Habaneros. That sounded like fun.
“It’s very spicy.” One of the servers warned me as I put a few on my plate.
I sat down to have a conversation with a few people at my table. The food was good. Then I ate something that started out sweet. Moments later, one side of my face went numb. It was like I was stung or was having a stroke. From below my ear to the bottom of my chin, I felt needles.
“Wow… he wasn’t joking” I coughed out to my seat mates. “Agua por favor”. The pain lasted a few minutes and then quickly subsided. A twinge remained in my face for an hour.
Then there was this warm glowing feeling in my chest. It was actually nice. It was a weird experience.
The next day, of course I felt the encore, but more than that, I actually kind of craved more habanero. Was I going crazy?
I had recalled seeing YouTube videos with mild interest depicting people eating spicy peppers. Hot Ones is one show where celebrities answer questions while eating hot wings.
After this incident, I started to take them more seriously. Eventually, it got to the point where I wanted to face the heat again.
This is when I met the ghost. I was spending a few hours with my girls and we were shopping for groceries. In a small corner of the produce section was a little package with about 10 scraggly looking peppers. They were ghost peppers. Up until about a decade ago, they were the hottest peppers in the world.
I have no interest in fetes of strength or proving anything. I’m not into the cinnamon challenge or eating bananas with the peels on them (like when I was younger and a friend and I were trying to reenact the scene from K-PAX).
No, I wanted to see if the hype was real and how much I could dance with it.
What I’ve discovered for myself is the simple joy that a single ghost pepper, combined with a lot of dairy fat, can bring to flavouring a dish. I didn’t appreciate what heat can do.
The great thing about the ghost pepper is that it can impart much heat without adding to much pepperiness. The flavour ends up being very tolerable but delicious.
Now to get my hands on a Carolina Reaper…