It’s hard to believe that August is nearly over. One thing that means is that chile peppers are ripe and all kinds of crazy varieties will be appearing at greenmarkets and grocers soon (chocolate habanero, I’m lookin’ at you!).
It also means a bumper crop of press coverage on how to use these babies: check out Gourmet online’s article on how to grow chile peppers, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s ultimate pepper primer — everything you need to know about cooking with peppers (if that’s your kind of thing and you’re in NY, you’ll also want to check out this “Chiles From the Greenmarket” cooking and walking tour at Astor Center on Saturday). And if that’s not enough, The New York Times offers a Q&A on the science of hot peppers.
So what’s missing? Cocktails, natch. So here’s my mini-primer on working with chile peppers in drinks:
Muddle them: Jalapenos, red chiles, and other “mild-to-medium” heat peppers. This imparts a vegetal freshness and a hint of the pepper’s flavor, as well as a small, tingly amount of heat to a drink.
Slice peppers into rounds, including the seeds, and drop them into the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Use a muddler or the back of a spoon to crush the living daylights out of the peppers, and then add the rest of your ingredients. Shake and strain into a martini glass. Do a quick spot check to make sure no seeds have fallen into your drink, and you’re good to go!
Infuse them: Habaneros, serranos, Thai bird’s eye chiles, and other “medium-to-hot” peppers. Although any chile pepper is good for infusing, I’m singling out the hotter varieties here because of the instant-gratification factor. Compared to a jalapeno, which takes a couple of hours to completely permeate a cup or two of vodka, a habanero works much faster; you can do a complete infusion in about 20 to 30 minutes. That includes infused simple syrups too. Click here to see a step-by-step for making habanero-infused simple syrup.
Sprinkle them: Dried and powdered chile peppers, such as ancho, guajillo, or chipotle. Any of these are great dashed over top of an otherwise very basic, perfectly chilled gin martini to create a “gunpowder martini” effect. Or mix with salt, sugar, or cocoa to create a custom mix for rimming glasses. If this appeals to you, check out the Fiery Almond cocktail, which uses this technique.