Someone, in their infinite wisdom, declared January 16 to be International Hot and Spicy Food Day.
Nobody seems to know exactly who declared it. But who cares? We’re just glad they did.
There are lots of reasons to celebrate spicy food. Apart from its tantalizing tingle (or blazing burn, depending on how you like it), studies have linked spicy food to health benefits like boosted immunity, weight loss, and even cancer prevention.
But let’s be honest: Dedicated heat-seekers aren’t in it (mainly) for their health. They’re addicted to the rush they get when mouth-watering flavor combines with eye-watering spice. In celebration of International Hot and Spicy Food Day, we asked some “heat heavyweights” about their favorite hot and spicy indulgences.
Michael Hultquist, an author, food blogger, and die-hard chilihead, knows a few things about spicy food. He’s written multiple books focused on chilis, including his latest, The Spicy Food Lovers’ Cookbook: Fiery, No-Fuss Meals. His favorite spicy dish? “Nothing beats a good gumbo when it comes to flavor. It’s the ultimate southern food, the official state cuisine of Louisiana for a reason, the conglomeration of different cultures and cooking techniques.”
While Hultquist notes that traditional gumbo isn’t necessarily hot, he likes adding extra kick. “My extra spicy version uses serrano peppers and sometimes a ghost pepper when I’m in the mood for awesome heat.” You can get the recipe on Hultquist’s blog.
Arizona-based chef Anthony Serrano trained at Le Cordon Bleu, has appeared on both Food Network and the Cooking Channel, and has won numerous cooking awards. His original recipe named “Three little pigs spice it up in Holland,” placed first in the recipe category at the 2016 World Food Championships. With those credentials, you might be surprised by chef Anthony’s favorite spicy food. “As crazy as it sounds, my favorite spicy dish is a great salsa! Whether using it as a base for a dish or as a condiment, I love the complex simplicity of a perfectly crafted salsa.” Chef Anthony has revealed his family’s “super-secret” Salsa de Tomate recipe on his website.
Rock n roller-turned-entrepreneur Troy Primo was working at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Horticulture Department in 2005 when he developed the “7 Pot Primo” pepper. One of the world’s hottest peppers, it averages an absolutely scorching 1.5 million Scoville heat units. That’s 300(!) times hotter than a Jalapeño. In 2012 he decided to launch a career in the pepper business, founding
Primo’s Peppers LLC with his wife, Kara Primo.
When asked, Primo couldn’t decide on just one favorite spicy dish. “I would say either Jamaican Jerk or Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum). Jamaican Jerk is versatile: You can jerk pork, chicken, shrimp, whatever. And you can go with the traditional three scotch bonnet recipe or substitute a 7 Pot Primo for a blistering version. But Thai Green Papaya Salad…If you’re in need of an endorphin rush, this is the dish to order. Mae Sone Noodle House in Lafayette, LA offers Som Tum ‘Primo Hot.’ If you order it, prepare to ride the pain train as you flip-flop through the cosmos.”
Duke Eyman, a retired executive chef living in Arkansas, hand-crafts a line of artisanal salts and seasonings that he sells primarily on Facebook. A long-time fan of spicy foods, he got hooked on heat when he started meeting hardcore chili-heads online. After finding peppers such as ghost, bhutlah, and scorpion peppers a bit too high on the Scoville scale, he became a big fan of the habanero pepper for its flavor and more manageable heat. Chef Eyman’s favorite dish to prepare is his own creole-inspired recipe, Pan-fried Spicy Shrimp ‘n’ Grits with Ham Hock gravy. Served with fried okra on the side, the dish features both habanero and jalepeno peppers.
Ken George Roberts (Chef Kenny) of Western Australia has a true passion for spicy food and has developed his own award-winning line of chili products, which he markets with his partner Shirley-ann Kettle through their business, Chillin’ out in W.A. He’s particularly fond of the muy picoso flavors of Mexico–especially chili con carne (just “chili” here in the States). “It’s very tasty, and I can spice it up as much as I want with my favorite ‘spice up sauce’ which we make: Chef Kenny’s Aussie Smokin Hot Sauce.” Apparently he isn’t shy about dipping into his inventory, adding, “I think I am my best customer!”
Chef Kenny loads up his chili con carne with a generous dollop of sour cream, fresh chopped tomatoes, spring onions, and finely diced onion & jalapeno peppers (of course). He likes it served on a bed of shredded iceberg lettuce with a large side of short-grain white rice. Chef Kenny was kind enough to share the recipe he’s entering in the 2019 Araluen Chilli Festival in Perth (note the metric measurements!):
Chef Kenny’s Chili con Carne:
1 large brown onion, diced
1 large green capsicum, diced
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp Ultralicious Chilli Salt
1 tbsp Ultralicious Chilli Con Carne Blend
1. Spray pan with oil over medium heat.
2. Cook off the diced onion, capsicum & garlic.
3. Add the Ultralicious Chilli Con Carne Blend & cook out for 1 minute.
4. Pour in the red wine and bring to temperature.
5. Add the mince & mix well.
6. Cook out for 5 minutes.
7. Tip in the cans of tomato & black beans.
8. Finish with tomato paste & Ultralicious Chilli Salt.
9. Simmer for 20 minutes over low heat.