One of the common misconceptions when it comes to Caribbean food, is that it’s supposed to be SPICY and EVERYONE on the islands likes it HOT. Very Untrue! We can agree that some of the HOTTEST peppers in the world originates in the Caribbean and YES many of us likes it a bit spicy, but not everyone. I have many relatives and friends who are terrified by ‘heat’ of any kind, so you’ll find that when I share a recipe on CaribbeanPot.com I always tell people to tailor the recipe to their own liking, when it comes to the use and/or amount of Caribbean Sunshine (Scotch Bonnet) they use.
Before we look at how to salvage an overly spicy dish, we should take a peek at where the ‘heat’ comes from and how we can avoid ending up with fiery dishes.. which you can’t enjoy. In the case of the recipes I share, the main culprit is usually the Scotch Bonnet, Habanero or Bird’s Eye’s peppers I use with such passion, so the following comment/tips would relate to their use:
- Never include any seeds (of the peppers) Remove and discard
- Don’t use any of the white membrane surrounding the seeds
- Use WHOLE and try to NOT break them (float in stews, soups etc and remove the whole pepper before serving)
- Use as much as you can handle.
- You DON’T have to include such hot peppers if you know you can’t tolerate heat. Let YOU be the master of the recipe
- Use a milder pepper that you’re capable of handling.. if you want some pepper flavor
- the closer you get to the stem, the more intense the heat level can be
The SCENT! If you’ve been using such hot peppers as named above you’ll know that there’s a distinct aroma when you cut one of these peppers open. A bright, sharp and intense scent which you can immediately identify. You really can’t tell how intense a pepper is (the same way you can never tell if an orange is sweet without peeling it) unless you cut one open… so by mastering the ‘scent’ you’ll be able to use as much as you think you can handle.
Let’s now pretend for a second that you still end up with an overly spicy dish and look at ways you can hopefully tone things down a bit.
- you can tame the heat with cream, milk, yogurt or sour cream. Dairy works great to neutralize the capsaicin in peppers. Coconut milk is my usual choice as it adds a lovely natural sweet note (and richness) to spicy dishes
- you can also ‘top’ (or on the side) the dish with yogurt or sour cream when serving
- add potatoes and/or carrots.. works great in soups, stews and curries
- dilute with water or stock
- tomatoes.. the acid in the tomatoes (same for pineapple) will help to tone things down a bit
- balance with sweet? Honey, brown sugar etc will work, but it will change the overall flavor of the original dish
- serve with a carb (or salad). When we serve curry goat, you’ll always get a side of rice and peas or roti. This way you’re not continuously eating something spicy during the meal.
- serve with a side of something sweet to balance the heat. The next time you get Jerk Chicken takeout from your fav Jamaican joint.. you’ll notice it comes with a side of fried ripe plantains (SWEET!) and/or coleslaw
If I’m being completely honest, there’s no real way to get rid of “heat” if you can’t handle it and the dish turns out overly spicy. The steps above will ultimately change the nature of the dish and you will still be able to identify the spiciness you’re trying to mask. But do give some of the tips above a try before tossing out ‘good’ food. You may end up with a dish you can handle.