At the farmers market this weekend we could definitely tell the season is in transition. The last of the tomatoes were out, squash was abundant, and lettuce has started to reappear at a few stands. Peaches were no where to be found, but apples have taken their place. What caught our eyes though, surrounded by cool weather green plants, was the impossibly shiny orange skin of some habanero* peppers. At $1 a pint, we couldn’t pass them up, even though we had no real idea of what to make with them. Inspiration came along soon enough.
*According to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia, the tilde (~) Americans tend to put on the n in habanero is incorrect and a symptom of hyperforeignism. Who knew?!
Shortly after returning home with our produce bounty and faced with twenty peppers that can burn your face off, Rob proposed two ideas: dehydration and a tequila infusion. For us and the peppers. And so continues my newly formed series on Food Preservation!
(If you want to make a recipe with fresh habanero peppers, here’s a great recipe for habanero chutney found by Julia. She highly recommends it on sandwiches.)
Peppers are probably the easiest fruit to preserve because there is almost no work involved, especially if you ditch the machine and let them dry out on their own. If you find yourself with an abundance of peppers (as anyone who grows peppers will eventually find themselves), I recommend stringing them up as you will see below. The bright orange of the habanero is undeniably festive.
- Abundance of peppers
- String or twine
- Place to hang finished product
Peppers that have a substantial amount of stem to work with are the best candidates for hanging to dry, but even those with short stems can be hung with a little creativity and some wire twisty ties.
To begin, tie a loop at one end of your string or twine, if you like. It isn’t required, just helpful. Then, tie each pepper onto the string at a relatively consistent distance using what is apparently called a Half Knot. It’s the same knot that forms the beginning of how most of us tie our shoelaces. If your string or twine is slipperier than what I used, do the same thing again to secure the stem in the string. The twine we used held with just one pass.
They are the perfect autumn decoration on our dining room windows.
To prepare this cocktail, we first had to infuse some tequila with one of our habanero peppers. Infusing liquor is a fun way to get creative with your bar tending and an excellent way to use up excess produce!
After consulting with the internet (love you, Chowhound) and checking out our options at the liquor store, we went with the cheapest option discussed: Agavales. It is 100% agave, which was the only condition we had for purchase, and we didn’t want to spend a whole bunch of money on something that might end up too spicy to drink.
Infusions vary depending on the fruit you are using. In this case, I had read a few different approaches, but we decided the careful approach was best: only infuse a pint’s worth of tequila, taste it at intervals of a couple of hours each, and only use one pepper. If it’s great, we reasoned, we can always infuse more. If it isn’t…well, not too much wasted in the pursuit of curiosity and cocktails.
Proper pepper preparation is critical when dealing with something this spicy and tongue-twisting. As such, gloves are a must. Soap and water just can’t fight the habanero spicy and we humans can’t keep from touching our eyes and mouths, so just follow my advice and protect yourself!
In order to lower the chances that we would brew something spicy enough to render it undrinkable, we removed the stem and seeds from our pepper:
Place the strips into your pint jar and fill the jar with your tequila of choice. Lid up and give the jar a swirl. (We have an overabundance of Mason jars, so make do with what you’ve got on hand. Just make sure it has a lid.) Then clean up! Rob wanted me to point out that he used to dish at a Thai restaurant, where they often cooked with Ghost chilis, and that this is an appropriate amount of soap to use.
We tasted the infusion at two hours and it was spicy, but not overly so and certainly not spicy enough to stand up to all the power of a Margarita. After about five hours, we decided it was good to go.
- 1 1/2 oz., plus 1/2 oz. habanero tequila
- 1 tbsp? Kosher salt
- Juice from 1/2 a lime
- Juice from 1/2 a lemon
- Juice from 1/2 an orange
- 1-2 tbsp. agave nectar, or simple syrup if you are short on agave
Pour 1/2 oz. habanero tequila on a small plate and pour Kosher salt on another plate. Place glass rim into tequila, then into the salt. Shake off excess. (Or omit if you prefer your Margarita unsalted.)
Combine the tequila off the plate and the remaining ingredients in a shaker and shake with three ice cubes for 30 seconds.
Strain into your prepared glass.
Please observe the lack of ice cubes and general frozen-ness in this cocktail. While it isn’t a completely traditional preparation in terms of flavors, the spirit of the cocktail is there. If you haven’t had a homemade (or reputable-cocktail-establishment-made) Margarita, please do yourself a favor and make it happen. Like a traditional daiquiri, the Margarita is meant to be small, yet powerful.
The orange juice in this recipe is a nice way to balance the heat of the habanero, but the drink can be made with just lemon and lime juice. Or even just lime. It’s easier to adjust the flavors when the drink is still in the shaker. Just be quick about it!