Two years ago I wrote a blog post about the Birds Eye Chilli season in the UK. It was a bit of an odd one because although it was about chilli, which is found in supermarkets and convenience stores, it was for local specialist food shops. However, this year I have been asked to blog about the same thing for a different type of outlet: a top local restaurant.
So what’s the connection? Well, they both sell Birds Eye Chilli!
Birds Eye Chilli is only available from around January/February through until June. It is quite an unusual product as throughout most of its shelf life it has no use by date on it. This is because it has undergone very little processing or preservation and so will keep in ambient conditions without spoiling or deteriorating so long as it is kept dry.
I don’t know why chillies are not kept available all year round. Perhaps the chillies are grown in South America and then imported out of season to be processed into Birds Eye Chilli here in the UK. The reason for this is that at this time of year there are lots of orders for chilli flakes but not many people buying fresh chillies!
What does this mean for local restaurants? Well, you can stock your freezer with
Good news for chilli lovers.
In the middle of March, a large number of local restaurants and supermarkets will begin stocking up on the ‘Bird’s Eye Chilli’, which is one of the mainstays of the season.
The chilli is green when picked, but turns bright red when pickled in vinegar. Chillies are a popular ingredient in many traditional dishes, such as stews and stir fries, and have been eaten by Chinese people for thousands of years.
The chilli is a peculiar fruit. They are only available for a few months here in the UK and much of that time, they are quite hard to find, they are not available fresh but only as dried flakes or powder (which can be fiddly to use) and they are very expensive.
Yet despite these drawbacks, chilli is an integral part of my life and I have discovered that it is one of those things I would miss if it was no longer available.
So here are some tips on how to use chilli in your cooking. You can make many different dishes with chilli including sauces, soups, stews and curries. Here are just a few ideas:
There is perhaps some of the same psychological freeze-up that occurs during the holidays. I have been so hopeful to start the spring season, but it has still not happened. During this time of “biological winter”, I am struggling with a little bit of the same feelings that I get when the holidays are approaching and everyone is doing their best to spread Christmas cheer, even though we are in January.
As a result of my week of being surrounded by people who are ill with colds and flus, my brain has completely been frozen over by germs and I am now suffering from a bit of a case of “cabin fever.” It’s hard to feel motivated to go out into the world and face all of those potential carriers.
My mood is fluctuating between an overwhelming feeling of sadness, boredom, and frustration to an overwhelming feeling of restlessness. I’m fighting these feelings by trying to stay busy cooking up new dishes for the upcoming chilli season, which starts in about two weeks.
This is the time of year when you will find chilli on every menu. The season is well and truly here, so now’s a good time to find out some more about this very popular ingredient.
What is chilli?
Chilli peppers have been valued since ancient times for both their flavour and their medicinal properties. They come from plants in the genus Capsicum and are native to Central and South America, which is why you’ll often see them described as “Mexican Chillies”.
The reason that there are so many different types of chilli is that people have been developing them for thousands of years to suit different tastes. There are hundreds of varieties of chilli and each can be hot in a slightly different way. Some will make your mouth burn, others will make your eyes water or even stop you breathing for a short while! The amount of heat in a chilli is measured by something called Scoville Heat Units; the higher the SHU, the hotter the chilli. Birds Eye Chillies will have between 100-350 SHU which makes them medium-hot compared with other chillies.
There are even competitions to see who can grow the hottest chillies! It’s not just about having a high SHU though –
Chillies (hot peppers) are to be found all around the world, from countries like Mexico, Brazil and Thailand to locales such as India, China and Peru. However, chilli peppers can be grown in Australia. The very popular Birds Eye Chilli’s is a product of Australia.
Having grown up in Brisbane, I remember my first introduction to chilli plants (as a young boy). It was when my father had planted a couple of chilli plants in the backyard. I remember how frightened I was of those plants! The reason being? Well it was because I thought that the chilli plants would grow into something like an apple tree (I remember my father had shown me an Apple tree once before) and that he would put chilli apples on it (which I knew would hurt me). But as I grew older and wiser, I realised that these hot plants were not going to grow into anything like an apple tree (thankfully).
The most famous variety produced by Birds Eye Chillies is the Birds Eye Chilli – named for the company that grows them specifically for the commercial industry. There are many other varieties however which can be grown. Some examples include the Fresno Chilli, Hungarian Wax Chilli and Jalapeno Chilli.
Chillies are a traditional and popular spice in Ethiopia for their distinctive flavour. They are grown there on a large scale and exported all over the world, thanks to their popularity, high demand and the fact that they can be easily dried and preserved. The most common Ethiopian chilli is the “Aleppo”, which is mildly hot, with a fruity fragrance.
The Indian/Asian variety of chilli is slightly hotter than its Ethiopian counterpart, although both are extremely spicy. The Ethiopian chilli is available fresh, whole or powdered. It is not as hot as the Asian variety.
This highly versatile vegetable is used in many different ways throughout Ethiopia. For instance it can be used to make a fiery sauce called berbere that is used on almost every dish in Ethiopia, or added to soups and stews to bring out their flavour or eaten raw! There are lots of ways you can cook with fresh chillies – it’s just a matter of getting ideas from your local Ethiopian restaurant (if you live in London then try Berber & Q on Edgware Road) or cookery book!
Chillies are full of vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium; they also contain fibre which helps control blood sugar levels and helps digestion