Late summer early autumn is when chiles are at their fruity-spicy best. I make it a point to see what’s available at the local farmer’s markets. Chiles are a hot (pun intended) thing to grow these days and farmers such as Melody Ranch, a local farm in Watsonville near where I live, tries out new varieties every year. The farmer told me that she leaves one row to turn nice and red, and I’m waiting for her jalapenos so I can make a few batches of homemade chile garlic sauce.
Yesterday, I came home with a sampling of Melody Ranch’s bounty. I asked and then selected the ones with the most heat from their array. There were large padron, Portuguese, something related to habanero, and cherry bombs. These are much larger than Thai chiles so how hot could they be? With exception to the occasional bell pepper, ginormous chiles don’t figure into Vietnamese cuisine. Hot ones add touches of heat but Viet food, in the main, isn’t big on chiles like that of other Southeast Asian cuisines.
However, I did recall seeing a Viet-American chef eating pan-fried chiles with rice as part of a staff meal at his restaurant. Think of pan-fried padron peppers that are served at trendy tapas bars. Why not do the same with these? Here's what I bought:
I split each one lengthwise, kept the membranes and seeds intact and heated up a skillet over medium-high heat with a light film of peanut oil. In went the chiles and I seared the, pressing and flipping until they picked up some caramely color. It was a little dramatic at times but the fragrance was amazing. After 3 to 5 minutes, they were done. Tossed with a few sprinklings of kosher salt, and I had a great snack as well as an accompaniment to rice.
The flavor? There was a moderately-hot amount of rich, sweet heat. It was bearable enough for my husband and I to gobble up a batch very quickly. For dinner, I pan-fried the chiles again and then stir-fried them with thinly sliced flank steak (marinated with soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and oil). Just now, I cooked up more and added them to a sandwich for a little bite.
Try this technique as a way to explore all the crazy, lovely chiles that are coming to market right now.