Roger Marolt: Burning to contribute to Food & Wine in Aspen
June 16, 2017
Wasabi-stuffed habanero peppers. After slipping one of these between your molars, the next 10 seconds are how it must feel to have your nose hairs trimmed by hooking them up to jumper cables attached to a Tesla. They also are my contribution to this year's annual Food & Wine Classic.
The good news is that a jolt like these pepper poppers provide is hit and run. I don't know the chemical reaction, but whatever it is that makes wasabi burn mixed with the capsacin in the peppers seem to neutralize each other after a brief but intense battle waged on your nose and mouth's tender membranes. The result is an adrenaline rush chased by a endorphin high followed with the pleasant realization that, behind the heat of a habanero, there is actually a really delicious fruit that can be fully enjoyed because your sinuses are clear.
For a bachelor party, I might recommend seed-in habaneros filled to the top with the best wasabi you can find. For the wedding day, I might gut the habby first and fill it half-full with cream cheese before topping it off with a dab of wasabi. If you are heading to a Fourth of July picnic, try garnishing with a bacon fuse and wait for the fireworks.
Of course you want to know how I came up with such an actively appetizing concoction. As with most discoveries, mine was by accident. It happened as I was enjoying a sushi lunch at my desk and inadvertently set my habanero pepper down in the dollop of wasabi. I took a bite, felt the blast, and waited for the lingering burn. It never came but, as I waited, I realized how delicious the combination was.
Wait. What? You want to know why I was eating a whole, raw habanero pepper with my sushi? That's a fair enough question. The deflective answer, which seems to be in fashion these days, is because I needed to appear busy that day and both items are sold at City Market, so I ran out, bought them and brought them back to the office to spread out on my desk while I shuffled some paperwork. I wasn't actually busy but needed to make up for a round of golf I played the previous afternoon.
I know that doesn't answer what you really want to know. The truth is that I try to eat a really hot pepper every day for health reasons. I have found the real or imagined benefits to be worth the suffering.
I read that capsacin, the stuff that makes peppers hot, may work to reduce inflammation in the joints. After eating a pepper at lunch, I have fewer aches and pains in my body, perhaps because this practice is a medical breakthrough, or it's just that my mouth and stomach hurt so badly that I forget about the pain everywhere else for a while.
They also say peppers might reduce the frequency and severity of the common cold. I have suffered fewer cases of the sniffles since my pepper-eating campaign. This is because peppers are the cure for the common cold or I just don't dare rub my eyes or touch my nose with my capsacin-smeared hands after eating the peppers, so viruses never have a chance to crawl into those places.
If you want to go deeper than that, I confess that my love affair with peppers budded, flowered and set fruit after consuming six buht jalokia (a.k.a. ghost) pepper-coated chicken wings in less than five minutes at a sports bar in Steamboat Springs. I was goaded into it by teenage boys I was chaperoning at a ski race. I now know it was more than them wanting to see a grown man cry. They surely thought the stunt would send me to the hospital for a stomach pump and overnight observation hold so they could stay up late unsupervised and wander the town looking for trouble. It nearly worked.
After consuming the wings my vision narrowed to what I can only describe as looking through a garden hose at the neighbors petunias. The kids were laughing and talking to me, but everyone sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher. My hands tingled and my legs went numb. My face burned and my gut hurt like I'd swallowed a handful of thumbtacks. I moaned mournfully for the next 12 hours and consumed two gallons of milk and several pints of yogurt trying to douse the embers in my gut. That's where this all began. I have sacrificed for your culinary delight.
Roger Marolt enjoys the agony and ecstasy of really hot peppers. Email at roger@maroltllp,com.