I’M IN LOVE WITH SCOTCH BONNETS
I bet you are thinking what a funny title. I am being honest though. A while ago I did some research and here is what I found out about my favorite vegetable of all time.
Scotch Bonnets are some of the world’s hottest peppers. They rank anywhere from 100000-350000 on the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU) scale. This is a measure of how hot a chili pepper is (or for that matter, anything derived from a chili pepper). The scale is named after Wilbur Scoville who developed the test in 1912. Your average red chili pepper scores in at about a 1000 SHUs.
Scotch Bonnets are mostly found in the Caribbean islands and West Africa. Second cousins to the Habenero, they are waxy, have taut flesh, and range in color from green through an avocado-yellow to a deep orange, and they are literally shaped like bonnets (minus the ribbon tie of course). Ten years ago, the Guinness Book of World Records ranked them as the hottest pepper, but they’ve since been de-throned, replaced by the Maruga. They are generally used in most stews, sauces, salsas, and sometimes as marinade in most of the Caribbean and certainly in many West African countries.
Growing up in Ghana, West Africa, I learnt to cook with them in every dish we prepared, from soups to salsa. In Accra, the capital, they are called Ojengma, which is a Ga (one of the languages) name that translates literally to: “you are smelling good.” My first introduction to them is not a happy memory: I had a cooking lesson planned with our house-help, Aunty Mercy, an older lady who lived with us to help my grandmother take care of my sister and me in exchange for room and board and learning a trade. I wanted to do everything myself from scratch so she let me remove the stems of the pepper after they had been soaking in water for a while. Apparently, the seeds and the oil off the skin are the deadliest as far as the heat goes. Ignorant of this detail, I took my sweet time. I then put the peppers on the grinding-stone and began, twenty minutes later, I was crying because I had spread the juices all over my palms and they were burning. I proceeded to swipe a tear away and that’s when the whole neighborhood knew I was cooking. I had to have my hands wrapped in leaves of a cooling herb that had to be plucked from our next-door neighbor’s garden. Needless to say I skipped supper that night. I have since learned to prepare that dish and nurture a relationship with the Scotch Bonnet with no hard feelings. 🙂
All history and research aside, I am in love with them, oh wait, I already mentioned that! I have found that no other pepper can replace the Scotch Bonnet when I am cooking. Most peppers on the market are not strong (spicy) enough for my taste buds nor do they have that light citrus flavor that is unique to the Scotch Bonnet. They have that quality of being strong enough, yet flavorful, to enhance the food without completely ruining the contribution of the other ingredients as some other peppers are wont to do. If I have to cook without them, I feel inadequate, incomplete, almost as though I have failed as a chef. I guess there is something to be said for bonding with a particular ingredient. However, as a chef and caterer I have to consider the palates of my clients so I often control the heat: Maybe I’ll use a third of a quarter-sized bonnet as opposed to about the whopping 1-3 whole ones I use when I give myself free rein with the heat. However, I’ve found a way to compromise this need to use Scotch Bonnets in all my cooking by including my special brand of hot sauce with every order I deliver (now you can order them separately!). This satisfies my need to share this amazing vegetable with the world and allows my customers to regulate the heat to their taste. Often my customers thank me for giving them a new experience. In my next post, I will share how I make this divine signature sauce: “Asempe Moko” (“curious pepper”).
Stay tuned for the cooking lesson!