If you thought the notorious bhut jolokia always needed to be served up with fire extinguishers, think again. From lacing risottos, dips, mayonnaise, to spicing up drinks and lending even desserts a whacky edge, here is a tell-all on the yum spice that is famously known as the world’s third spiciest chilli. At The Wine Rack in mid-town Mumbai, executive chef Himanil Khosla spins a flavourful, mildly spiced ditty with the traditional pepper. “I use this chilli in one of my signature dishes: the Goan pork sausage risotto with bhut jolokia and pecorino.
I believe that the use of chilli is a very misguided affair. People often use it just for one aspect—to increase the hotness of a dish—without paying much attention to the natural flavour,” he shares. “The process I follow before using them is fairly simple: I soak the dried bhut jolokia overnight. This helps to bring in a more balanced flavour in the chillies and also makes them easier to use in the kitchen. After this, I de-seed the chilli and fine mince it. Then I sauté it in butter to extract the robust flavour. This butter is what I use in the preparation of the risotto. The ghost use of the ghost chilli gives it the perfect balance between spiciness and flavour,” explains Khosla.
The discreet drawing of the flavour creates the taste you savour. The rush of bhut jolokia chilli flakes or even chilli oil suffuses your palate with the perfectly balanced spice factor. The mini, puckered chilli with a visage—as if it has been pickled in the sun—is a firebrand of severe wattage. So the idea is to make the spice mild. No wonder, it is dubbed ghost pepper, red Naga, and even ghost jolokia, ringing in the rustic touch of the northeastern states.
Executive chef Amninder Sandhu, the creative heart behind Arth, has grown up with the spice in Assam. Working with bhut jolokia spells lovable challenges for her as she is familiar with the vein of the chilli and manages to use it at a culinary advantage. She pioneered the use of the Naga spice in contemporary cuisines four years ago. The glistening sheen of the chicken wings Amninder serves up quiver with delectable flavours, stroked with bhut jolokia.
“Earlier people used to baulk at reading about the inclusion of the spice on the menu,” she laughs. “But if you work sensibly, there are ways of drawing in the flavour of the pepper without creating smoke. You must always cut the bhut jolokia with gloves on, never with bare hands. Also, it is better to use the dried spice, by soaking it in oil. I generally use mustard oil since I prepare Indian dishes, though olive oil yields great results too,” she shares. Seeping the chilli in oil cuts its pungency and searing spicy soul, toning its hotness down to a bearable level.
“Use this oil (after letting it stand with the immersed bhut jolokia chilli for a week) in combination with yogurt for marinating meats and vegetables of your own choice. For instance, my recent preparation has been chargrilled paneer stuffed with fennel, laced with sweet cream to balance the sprinkle of bhut jolokia. I marinate chicken wings in this oil for a touch of zing. But jolokia works beautifully in tandem with sweet somethings: like hot chocolate with fat and soft marshmallows teamed with a bhut jolokia sprinkle,” says Amninder. A dizzying medley of flavours, indeed. So, it’s time to try out the robust flavours and reinvent your own game in the kitchen.