Restaurants across the globe are picking up on spicier menu items. Once the domain of Mexican, Thai, and Indian restaurants, you’ll find something on just about every menu to please chili heads (or pyro-gourmaniacs, if you prefer).
We’re not talking about average fast-food meals either – or your favorite neighborhood wing joint. Higher-end restaurants are putting down what fire-eaters are picking up (and shoveling in their mouths).
But, each chef turns to a different source of heat to spice up their menus. Sure, you’ll find a few faves that are repeated time and time again. Diners can’t get enough of the garlicky flavor found in sriracha sauces and the Calabrian and Aleppo chili peppers are fast favorites in American kitchens.
So where do chefs turn when they want to crank up the heat?
Fresh and Dried Chilies
Chefs looking to add heat and a lot of pepper flavor almost always reach for chilies. It’s the best option across the board. It doesn’t matter which pepper you turn towards, fresh or dried chilies are always good.
Fresh chilies are a favorite simply because they add color and texture along with the heat and flavor. And, it’s easy to up the heat either with new chilies or by adding a few extra peppers. Dried peppers carry the same benefits – they just last longer. Of course, every prep chef knows that it’s crucial to wear gloves when dealing with either.
Hot Sauces and Extracts
Hot sauces aren’t just mashed chilies. Other ingredients are added to make the sauce work on its own and last longer. Extracts, on the other hand, are pure capsaicin and they’re added for heat alone.
When it comes to hot sauces, the flavor of the ingredients already blended should work with everything else going into the dish. It’s hardly a limiting factor, however. As each and every hot sauce is different, it’s entirely possible to use a particular hot sauce as a base – rather than an additive.
That said, extracts in meals are used to frighten the people sitting at the table.
Pastes and Mashes
There’s a new push in restaurants from chefs to create more pastes and mashes. As you can imagine, these cut down on prep time while still adding the fire that comes from fresh chilies. Because other ingredients can be added to maintain the mashy, mushy texture they can be used as a base as well as an additive. And yet, one of the biggest reasons to turn towards chili pastes is that it’s super easy to blend different chilies together without chopping each pepper individually.
But, what chefs do and what home cooks do are very different things. (It’s all those lovely prep cooks and an almost steady stream of fresh ingredients, not because home cooks can’t prepare stunning meals.) So where should you turn to kick up the heat in your kitchen? It all depends on what you’re after… and how hot your family likes it.