photo by Donna T. Ruhlman
Chilli: Chilli refers to a variety of pungent fruits often called chile peppers or hot peppers. A wide variety is commonly available at grocery stores, both fresh and dried (and sometimes canned, as with chipotles in adobo sauce). All have their own flavors and heat levels, and they are extraordinarily versatile and add great flavors and verve to countless dishes. The heat in chillis (capsaicin) resides in the white flesh to which the seeds are attached and this, along with the seeds, is typically removed and discarded when preparing fresh chillis. Fresh chillis—poblanos, jalpeños, serranos, habañeros are common—are customarily stemmed and seeded. Dried chillis—ancho, chipotle, guajillo, cascabel, for example—are best if they’re lightly toasted to enhance their flavor and completely dehydrate them. The stems and seeds are then removed and these peppers can be chopped or more commonly ground to powder in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Alternately they can be rehydrated in warm water, then stemmed, seeded and chopped and used in sauces. The late food historian Alan Davidson uses the native word for this important fruit in his Oxford Comapnion to Food, and his colleague Harold McGee joined him in using the term exclusively for what we’ve referred to as chili peppers, chile peppers, and hot peppers. “Given the many possibilities for confsuion,” writes McGee in On Food and Cooking, “I agree with Alan Davidson and others that we should refer to pungent capsicums with the original and unambiguous Nahuatl name chilli.”
--From The Elements of Cooking
I was delighted to read McGee's explanation of white pepper's nasty flavor (complete NYTimes article here). I have never understood why chefs use it--it can destroy a dish. And McGee's post got me thinking about other peppers and an important opinion he wrote about how they ought to be spelled, thus the above "element."
From the left, Fresno, Anaheim fresh and dried, habeñero and below it a Thai chilli, jalapeño fresh and jalapeño smoked and dried (chipotle). These fruity, spicy wonders make life better in so many ways.