Although this site was named Souperior for my love of soup-making, it could very easily have been given a weakly punning title based on one of my other two great food loves – Preserves or Chillies (in fact it was originally going to be called ‘Hooked on Heat’ – until I realised there was a rather fabulous blog called this already!). Every autumn I spend part of most weekends bottling, jamming, canning and pickling a glut of fruit and vegetables, not out of any notion of thrift but for the simple joy of the preserve-making process.
Wherever possible I preserve things picked or foraged from my own garden and surroundings, and this year I have been patiently cultivating two dozen chilli plants of various varieties, and been positively salivating at the possibility of making my own super-fiery chilli sauces and jams. I didn’t pick the best year weather-wise to start growing Capsicum annuum however, and they are only just starting to ripen now – something that has had me chafing at the bit preserve-wise. With the announcement of two food blogger events I very much wanted to take part in – Vanilla Clouds & Lemon Drops’ Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge and A Little Bit of Heaven on a Plate’s Homemade & Well Preserved I couldn’t wait any longer, and went out and bought myself a load of stunning jewel-coloured scotch bonnets from my local Caribbean store (where you’ll find them for a fraction of a price of the supermarket packs) to combine with a glut of green tomatoes from a major deforestation in the tomato patch to kill a bout of blight.
The plan was to make a chilli jelly (the green tomatoes don’t contribute much flavour, just a nicely tart pectin-rich juice in which the fruity flavour of the chillies shines through), but it was taking forever to reach the proper heat, I got distracted by some washing up and when I looked back – BOOM – frothing brown caramel everywhere (and I mean EVERYWHERE – all over the hobs, down the side of the cooker, over the floor – it took me forever to clean it all up!) Disheartened and not a little grumpy I bottled it anyway, and ever-dependable hubby talked me down from my strop long enough to start thinking what I could use three jars of napalm-hot super-sticky caramel for. Well, let me tell you this stuff is so good (once you’ve wrestled it out of the jar) you’ll think you’ve died and gone to chilli heaven. It’s just perfect to use as a glaze for meat and poultry – warm it in a small pan or add a splash of boiling water to loosen first – before smearing on your meat and roasting, grilling or barbecuing. I’ve also taken to adding a spoonful or two to my wholewheat bread dough (use it instead of the sugar at the yeast-creaming stage), where it adds a terrific treacly depth, and the heat of the chilli is tempered by the wheat so you get a beautiful warmth rather than blistering heat. You could of course forgo the ultra heat treatment and pull it off the stove at the jelly stage (you’ll need considerably larger jars) in which case it would be a fabulous condiment for cheese & biscuits or cold meats.
Scotch Bonnet Chilli Caramel (or Jelly)
Makes 3 small jars
2kg green tomatoes, roughly chopped
8 scotch bonnet chillies
Caster or granulated sugar (see method for quantity – have at least 1kg in the house)
You will also need: jam thermometer, jelly bag & stand or a large sheet of muslin and some method of suspension, strong glass jars
1. Simmer the tomatoes, water and 5 of the chillies in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan or a preserving pan for 35-40 minutes until soft and collapsing.
2. Blitz the fruit with a hand blender, then pour into a jelly bag and leave to strain through overnight (make sure you have a deep jug or bowl underneath it to catch every drop). Resist the urge to squeeze or otherwise force the juice out or the end product will be cloudy.
3. The next day, measure your strained liquid (discard the pulp, ideally into a compost bin), and for every 600ml juice weigh out 450g sugar, and combine juice and sugar in the (clean) large saucepan – it is essential there is plenty of space at the top of the pan as this will bubble and seethe ferociously! Heat slowly, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then pop in a jam thermometer, increase the heat and boil rapidly until it reaches 105˚C/220˚F (for jelly) or 112˚C/235˚F, aka ‘soft ball‘ stage (for caramel).
4. Whilst your sugar is dissolving, wash and sterilise your glass jars either by running through the dishwasher or by rinsing with warm water then placing in a moderate oven until dry and piping hot (place the lids – or rubber seals if using kilner jars – into a jug of freshly boiled water to sterilise them too). Finely chop the remaining chillies, discarding the seeds, and distribute evenly between the sterilised jars. When it is at the correct temperature, pour the chilli goo into the jars but remember: your caramel is hot and your jars are hot – pour it in a tiny bit at a time or it will boil over the tops in seconds. Pop the lids on, label the jars when cool and sit back and enjoy chilli heaven in the coming months!