The solution was simple (and a huge success): Chili-infused Oil. Here's what I learned from the reading up on the process:
At one point in October we had accumulated 40+ hot chili peppers from our CSA. Since they were too hot to eat fresh (for me), and throwing one in a stir fry meant I couldn't eat the stir fry, we needed to find a way to use them, while regulating the heat in the final product.10/10/10
- Don't use chilies that haven't been completely dried out. I dried the chilies on a paper towel in a sunny window. On the day we/Chris made the oil, he left one of the larger chilies out of the batch, because it still had a fleshy shape and wasn't fully shrunken and shriveled like the ones above. I had read that if the chilies still have moisture (and are closer to fresh than dried), the oil will turn cloudy.
- There are a lot of different opinions on what kind of oil to use. We used the olive oil that we buy in bulk, just to save money. Since the chilies overpower any delicate flavor you'd get from good olive oil, the idea is that you should buy cheaper, flavorless oil--like a salad or canola oil. I used almost all of our canola oil for my latest popcorn obsession.
- Use gloves. Because I have the constitution of a day-old moth, and am allergic to everything, Chris gallantly volunteered to put the whole thing together, including removing the tops/stems off of the peppers and chopping them all. Even he-who-is-invincible used plastic gloves, given the number of peppers being used. Though there are other ways of getting hurt by this project...
- Heat the oil to a shimmer, just before smoke point (don't let the oil smoke). Then add the chopped chilies and remove the pot from the heat. I read and took note of the fact that if water gets into the chili oil while it's hot (immediate steam), or if the oil gets so hot that it smokes and turns to vapor, you will spend the next hour choking from vaporized pepper oil in your throat. The combination of water and oil releases the capsaicin from the pepper and sends it out in a vicious cloud of 'I will make you miserable,' so don't risk it.
- Let the chili oil cool to room temperature (maybe even overnight). At this point, you can pulse the oil in a food processor (we chose not to), strain out all of the peppers, or leave all or some of them in the oil when bottling. Chris strained out some of them, not all, and left a few in the top of each bottle. The bottles were cheap at Kmart, but they're also at Bed Bath & Beyond, and the like. We gave one bottle of oil to our friend Bill and kept one for ourselves, not knowing how quickly or if we'd get through the bottle.
Over the next few days, the oil deepened in its red-color and we use it all the time. Ideas: Brush it on pita triangles before baking them into spicy chips, start stir frys with it, add it to roasting potatoes/vegetables, and pop popcorn with this thing of beauty. The popcorn is so good. But I filled the kitchen with the smoke that makes you choke, so I'll use less next time. Huge success nonetheless.10/17/10.