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 CaribbeanChoice : Food, Cooking & Dining : Caribbean Cooking
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harmac’s Recipes

Quote harmac Replybullet Topic: Caribbean Pepper
    Posted: 13 Jan 2007 at 9:43am
.Caribbean Scotch Bonnet

Excerpt from Cayman Pepper Peeves!

By Barbara Dailey, Cayman Net News

AngrySprintCaribbean Scotch Bonnet peppers have been one of the hottest “ingredients” in the North American food scene for the last decade.

Celebrity chefs like Allan Susser and Steven Raichlen “discovered” Scotch Bonnets and caused a sensation with their searing creations starring our humble little peppers.

The Food Network has showcased Scotch bonnets in segments about Jamaica’s jerk seasoning.

Almost every issue of Chile Pepper magazine, the last word on global Heat Cuisine, features at least a mention of the unique flavor of the Scotch Bonnet.

Today, the nugget-size chile appears in everything from four star rated restaurant cuisine to hot sauces and fancy condiments.

So tell me, please why I have to beg for real pepper with my meal whenever I eat out here in Cayman?

Where are those tempting jars full of vinegar and Scotch bonnet peppers, the original Cayman pepper sauce—or any pepper at all? This issue has become a pet peeve – and I’ll bet it’s a burning issue for many readers too.

Now, there are exceptions and I salute those few restaurants with proper pepper on their tables. But lately it seems that even those specializing in “local food,” don’t offer any to customers. Ask for it and the server usually points to a shaker filled with common ground black pepper.

If I request pepper sauce, I may get a bottle of that watery Louisiana red stuff.  Let me tell you: when a Caribbean person is offered Tabasco with red bean soup, stew beef or steam fish, it’s an insult. I have enough in my purse without having to pack a traveler bottle of pepper sauce. But right now, that’s the only solution.

Maybe this is simply a cultural oversight. Or perhaps litigation-wary restaurateurs are worried about unsuspecting tourists and foreign residents tangling with incendiary West Indian seasoning.

However, I have been in upscale Cayman restaurants catering to tourists where “New World Fusion” recipes using Scotch Bonnets resembled culinary arson. And yet, there’s no pepper allowed at the table.

In Cayman and Jamaica, “country pepper” is a general term for hot pepper and includes Scotch Bonnets and mutton peppers—but the Scotch bonnet is the most commonly used. It a smaller relative of the Mexican habanero—one of the world’s hottest peppers.

In Scoville Units (the international scale which measures the intensity of capsaicin, the heat source of chiles) the Scotch Bonnet ranks 9 to 10 with 100,000 units—lots hotter than a jalapeno, which has only 2,500 –5,000 units.

The come in a variety of colors, from pale green through orange and bright red, depending on age. This pepper is famous for putting the fire in Jamaica’s jerk seasoning. But it’s really the flavor we crave even more than the heat.

Mutton peppers have long been the favorite pepper in Cayman Brac, however. These small, pale green peppers have a more oval, even triangular shape, a wonderful flavor and aren’t as fiery. Brackers make a table pepper sauce from them and use them for seasoning fish, conch and whelk stews, along with meats and soups. They’re hard to find on Grand Cayman.

We also like our “seasoning peppers” a smaller and milder Scotch Bonnet hybrid that has a similar flavor without much heat, found only in Cayman.

Regardless of the nationality of the menu or the culinary artistry of the dish in front of us, Caymanians may still want to add a little pepper. This should not be taken as an insult by the chef. We’re talking about a cultural affinity whose roots date back 10,000 years.

Scientists now believe that hot peppers (the correct name is actually chiles with an “e”) probably originated in South America, in the region bordered by the mountains of southern Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Northern Argentina. Migrating birds ate the fruits and spread the seeds throughout the Americas as “organic fertilizer.”

Chiles have been the soul of South and Central American and Caribbean seasoning since the beginning of this region’s recorded history.  Proof of chili use dates back to Tehaucan, Mexico around 7500 BC. and Peru in 6500 BC.

They were one of the first plants to be domesticated and cultivated in the New World. Chiles were important to the Incan diet and especially loved by the Aztec, whose royalty enjoyed chicahuatl, a drink made from chocolate and chiles. The Mayan considered peppers sacred for their magical and medicinal powers.

Botanists believe our Scotch Bonnet, now truly an indigenous Caribbean pepper, originated as a wild chile first domesticated in Peru, and later, cultivated enthusiastically by the Taino Indians long before Columbus arrived. How it first traveled to the Greater Antilles remains a mystery.

The Taino and Carib Indians invented the Caribbean’s first pepper sauce, liberally seasoning fish, game and other food with coui, a mixture of hot peppers and cassava juice. Columbus wrote this in his 1493 journal, noting the Tainos’ use of pepper on almost everything they ate.

Chiles were one of the first—and most celebrated—“discoveries” Columbus took home to spice-crazed Europe from his first voyage, adding new fuel to the Old World’s fascination with pepper as a spice.

Traditional Caymanian cookery used only a few simple seasonings like black pepper, sweet green pepper, scallion and thyme, and hot peppers played an important role for their special flavor.

Caymanian cooks discovered long ago that the Scotch bonnet or mutton pepper’s fruity, fiery taste was an ideal complement to coconut milk dishes. Paired with lime juice and salt, these peppers had no equal for seasoning fish, conch and whelks.

In days gone, most Cayman yards had a pepper “tree”, either in a pot or in the ground—bushy, healthy plants bear year-round. Every table whether home or restaurant, always had a small dish of minced or sliced pepper and a glass jar filled with homemade pepper sauce.

This potent condiment is a fragrant fusion of Scotch bonnet (or mutton) peppers, vinegar, onions, and carrots, sometimes seasoned with garlic, allspice berries and cho-cho slices. Its metal lid was encrusted with telltale black, signifying the sauce was aged and ready to use.

Hurricane Ivan destroyed many things, including our local pepper crop and for more than a year, we suffered without fresh heat. We shamelessly wrestled to beat other shoppers if we spotted a few handfuls of fresh peppers at Kirk’s or Foster’s.

However, today you’ll once again see a generous supply of Scotch Bonnets in local supermarkets and when available, seasoning peppers too. Shelves are filled with a five-alarm collection of Caribbean pepper sauces, including our own delicious local brands.

You can also buy freshly made Cayman pepper sauce from Zelmalee Ebanks North Side kitchen at Willie’s Fresh Fruits & Juices in Red Bay. (It’s so good you’ll want to buy the largest bottle available.)
Cayman even has@#$%Sauce, its own home-grown and bottled condiment, and several award winning hot sauces including Tortuga Hell-Fire Hot Pepper Sauce and Tortuga Spicy Mango Sauce, produced by Tortuga Rum Company Ltd. (available at Their sauces have won top honors in the Annual Scovie Awards, the Official Contest of the Fiery Foods and Barbecue Industry.

Based in New Mexico, the organization is considered the world’s authority on chile-seasoned products, from barbecue sauces to sweets. Each year, the competition attracts more than 500 entries from all over the world, competing in 80 fiery food categories including salsas, hot pepper sauces, barbecue sauces and sweet heat products.

I think you’ll agree: there’s no longer any excuse for Tabasco alone on the Cayman table. Restaurant people, hear me now. Honor our culinary heritage and put real pepper sauce back on the table where it belongs—at every meal. And that includes breakfast—a dash or two of scotch bonnet sauce in cold orange juice could be the beginning of a better day. What a way to wake up ordinary scrambled eggs—or even cornmeal porridge, for that matter.

Pepper Facts

Chile, with an “e”, is the correct name for what we call “pepper” and there are more than 100 varieties worldwide. Chili is the spicy dish popular in Tex-Mex restaurants.

Chiles are good for you:   rich in vitamins A, C and E and excellent sources of potassium and folic acid.  However, be careful when handling the peppers and never touch your eyes, nose or any mucous membranes until you have washed your hands thoroughly. If you want to taste a tiny piece of fresh chile pepper, put it in your mouth without touching your lips or you may be in pain for some time!
Peppers get their heat from capsaicin, a potent chemical unaffected by cooking or freezing. It is concentrated in the seeds and inside veins, or ribs, of the pepper. To reduce the fire of chiles while retaining flavor, remove seeds and pale membranes or veins inside the pepper—these contain the most intense heat.

Capsaicin tells the brain to produce endorphins, natural painkillers that create a feeling of well being and stimulation. It’s now being used in creams and homeopathic remedies ranging from arthritis relief to routing the flu.

A whole Scotch bonnet, minced, even without the membrane and seeds, is a lot of heat. When you are ready to experiment, start conservatively, using a very tiny amount, perhaps a few slivers—definitely not a whole minced pepper—in any recipe. You can always add more later. Or use a milder mutton pepper—or if you are lucky enough to find one, use what we call “seasoning peppers,” including hybrid varieties of Scotch Bonnet, that have the bold Scotch bonnet flavor without the intense fire.

Alcoholic drinks will not put out a chile fire. If you get a pepper overdose, reach for milk, sour cream, ice cream or any dairy product.  At roadside stands, harddough bread and festival are common accompaniments to jerk pork or chicken because bread, rice and starchy foods also help absorb the heat of capsaicin.

Consuming huge quantities of Red Stripe, tequila or rum will NOT cure pepper afterburn…you just won’t care anymore. Alcohol actually helps increase the body’s absorption of capsaicin and may make the food taste hotter.  A beer chaser to pepper also makes you sweat more.

Are these peppers worth so much work—and possible pain? Absolutely. Many islanders swear good health requires a dose of pepper every day and have believed, like their ancestors, that pepper boosts the immune system.

Cayman Pepper Sauce

On my first visit to Cayman, this fiery but colorful concoction was my introduction to Caribbean peppers.  I ate a spoonful of peppers instead of drops of the sauce. After they resuscitated me, I could never again settle for that sissy Louisiana red sauce. No Caymanian table is complete without a jar of this.

1 dozen Scotch bonnet peppers, including red, yellow and green, sliced
1/2 medium onion, sliced very thin
2 cloves garlic, sliced very thin
1 medium carrot, peeled and sliced into very thin rounds
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups white vinegar

Take a sterilized 16-ounce jar (or two 8-ounce jars) and add the peppers and other vegetables and salt. Heat the vinegar until very hot but not boiling. Pour over the peppers and vegetables to cover, then seal jar. Let stand at least a week for flavors to blend. Drops (or spoonfuls) of the peppery vinegar is the actual “sauce” but many of us cannot resist digging into the pickled peppers and veggies. (**Some people add four or five whole allspice berries to this recipe.)

Originally article published at:

Edited by Scott - 06 Feb 2007 at 11:25am
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