A foodie's quest to turn up the heat through strength and conditioning with whole food and a hungry mind.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Five Fixes for Spicy Mixes...and an Apology

Caution! My advice to use salsa instead of bpa-infused canned tomatoes can become very spicy! It might seem pretty obvious to limit adding extra spice, but I still added cayenne (it is my blog’s name afterall) as usual.

I’d like to apologize to my wife, Kelley, for the break-out-in-sweat-runny-nose-spiciness in 3 of our meals this week………sorry, Kelley!!
Too much cayenne?  Never!
Lesson learned? Kind of; I will make sure to use the “Mild” salsa or hot sauce and not “Hot” or “Medium” in the future. I will also limit the amount of cayenne or pepper flakes added to the recipe. I have to hand it to Kelley for being such a trooper and finishing the flaming infernos of food I packed into our Pyrex containers.

After a week full of spice, I was inspired to post some of the top methods used to bring down the spice level while maintaining flavor; here are my top five:

1. Add more bulk; less the spice. If your recipe becomes too spicy while cooking, try adding a tad more of all the other ingredients (using the same proportions of the recipe) while leaving the spice out. Extra veggies never hurt anyway! This, of course, is considering you have room to add more ingredients. An added bonus, if the meal is good, is you will have leftovers.

2. Re-Moooove the spice with dairy. Capsaicin breaks down easier with dairy and the fats in dairy bond to individual capsicum molecules, keeping them away from the pain receptors on the tongue. Many cultures use this technique in their well-known recipes. For example, cheese or sour cream with Mexican food like tacos or enchiladas, or Raita yogurt with Indian dishes. Although usually served on the side, you can mix dairy products into the recipe to stop spice at the source. Adding milk or yogurt to a sauce, for example, will help reduce its spiciness. Make a note that since the ingredient that reduces spice in this process is fat, low or no fat dairy products will be less successful. For the anti-dairy person or people in your life, using dairy alternatives work well too. Milk from soy, almonds, and rice all contain fats that will have the same effect, although they may not work as effectively as dairy milk.

3. Make nice with sugar and spice. Sweetness helps to offset the spice in many foods. Adding a little honey, brown sugar, or agave nectar to your “hot” dish will help balance out the flavor. You might find you like what you create….just don’t add a lot of sugar as this can change the flavor in a bad way. A little brown sugar in chili might be a nice surprise to your consumers. This is my least favorite option as sugar does not provide much if anything in the way of nutrition.

4. Burn the “burn” with acid. The acid in things like lemon / lime juice or vinegar neutralizes alkaline ingredients like capsaicin. I love using vinegar to tone down the spice level; apple cider and balsamic vinegar can even enhance the flavor of your meal. Add while cooking or individually for each person’s dish. When combined with dairy, the lactic acid in milk will make it an even more effective neutralizer.

5. Serve food with a starch. When nothing can be done to the dish itself, serving with a starchy item like brown rice, crusty whole grain bread, or a potato will help to absorb and spread the spice through a greater amount of food. Just like using dairy in cultural cuisines, many spicy recipes also rely on this. Several examples include naan bread with Indian food, hard or soft tortillas with Mexican food, and rice with many Asian meals.

To tame the flame in your mouth, dairy and non-dairy milks alike will assist in reducing the pain; just have a nice, cool glass ready to gulp with you hot meal. Although it would work to lessen the spice, I'd advise against drinking vinegar. Warning! Do not drink water to help with the spice, it will just spread the capsaicin around your mouth and make it worse.

Have you ever gone so overboard on spice that your meal was almost unbearable to eat because of the fire in your mouth?

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