potables and comestibles

The soothing power of habanero vodka

Sliced chiliesThe garden is nearing the end of its season. The tomatoes have reduced their frenetic output to something nearly manageable, and the chilies are bright on the vine. This year, I have a disturbing number of habaneros . . . far more than is safe for any sane culinary pursuit. Happily, I am not excessively troubled with sanity, so I’ve processed the first batch and frozen them for the use during the long, coming winter.

Handle with careSadly, I’ve lost the little plastic tag that revealed the variety of the red peppers in the above photograph. They’re plenty hot, though not quite as fiery as their orange cousins to their right. It took about an hour and a half to sort through the harvest and prepare them for freezing. The garden also yielded several other kinds of peppers not pictured here, including a tasty Hungarian cultivar that fries up nicely and plenty of jalapeños. (A hint on jalapeños, by the way: if you grow them yourself, let them ripen all the way to bright red before harvesting. This adds a strain of sweetness to the heat, far superior to the watery, under-ripe green specimens you find in the the grocery.)

Handling cut chilies with bare skin is not recommended . . . really, not recommended. Despite a latex glove on my pepper-handling hand, my wrist was burning from the capsaicin spray after the first fifteen minutes.

Habanero VodkaI’ve been wanting to make some habenero vodka, so this was the perfect opportunity to experiment. I had a partial bottle of inexpensive (Gordon’s) vodka sitting around, so I popped sixteen quarter-pepper segments into around 400 mL. This is going to be hot! A sip immediately after I dropped them in had a faint heat to it, and another sample taken an hour later had a lovely burn.

The bottle is now sitting in the pantry, where it will infuse for several days before I take the next sample. I’ve seen suggestions that it sit up to half a year, but if I’m going to wait that long I’ll want to be a bit more certain of the results.

10 replies on “The soothing power of habanero vodka”

Your peppers are beautiful, Paul. Did you start growing them because you have lots of recipes that require peppers, or are you in the converse position and now need recipes to use up all the peppers?


Z: Thanks! It started as the former, but my situation has progressed quite distressingly into the latter.

I use peppers quite a bit when I have ’em around. They’re great minced very fine into scrambled eggs (fold in a bit of blue cheese right before they’re done for a treat) or mixed with tomatoes, basil, red onions, balsamic vinegar and tiny cubes of fresh mozzarella into a salsa cruda for pasta. I’ve been tweaking a jerk recipe for quite a number of years that includes bourbon, plenty of habanero peppers and around twenty other ingredients.

Last year I grew a skinny pepper (the variety escapes me at the moment) that dries very well, and I now use it exclusively in place of the bulk dried pepper flakes you can purchase in the spice section of the supermarket…they add an interesting depth of flavor. Even so, I’m going to have to seriously increase my pepper consumption to get through this harvest. I’m open to recipe suggestions…

I have an old dog-eared issue of Cooking Light built around the theme of peppers. My two favorites from that are a lowfat gumbo and a Vietnamese rice congee. I’ll try to dig it up for you and also see if there are any other things in there you might like. (The one I’ve been eye-ing for years is the tamale recipe, which I’ve never found the gumption to actually get started on.)


Ziff: Mmm, I’ve never made tamales. M. tells me that she’s made them before, and that they aren’t really that hard. I might have to give that recipe a try.

Conrad: I decided to try this after successfully making a habanero martini (basically, a vodka martini with half a habanero in it). The first attempt turned out a bit watery, but my second one was stupendous. When you drink one, it starts off with a faint tingle of spicy heat complementing the bite of the ice-cold alcohol, and the peppery bite gradually grows stronger as you near the bottom.

The flavors actually complement each other surprisingly well, but I wouldn’t try this with just any chili…a jalapeño, for example, would probably not be so tasty.

I’m planning to sample the bottle on Sunday, so I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Gumbo recipe (uses habeneros):

This is the only recipe I could find online from that wonderful Jan 1997 volume of Eating Well magazine. Enjoy.

Here is the closest thing I could find to the congee recipe I like:

What’s missing from this recipe, though, is that you absolutely must mix up some dipping sauce and pour it into the bowls of served rice congee.

The dipping sauce requires 1 clove of garlic, 1/4 cup of fish sauce, 1/4 cup water and 1/4 cup of lime juice. Dissolve lots of sugar into this and add a diced serrano chile. The recipe is right when all the flavors balance each other out and the dipping sauce tastes balanced — not too salty, not too sweet, not too sour. I recommend using Squid brand fish sauce for dipping. Use 3 Crabs brand fish sauce only for cooking.

Thanks very much for these, Herr Z. The gumbo looks quite tasty and I’ve never had congee before. I must say, though, as this is a household of two and M—— is vegetarian, any recipe that calls for a whole chicken will likely require a bit of adaptation.

That dipping sauce sounds fantastic. Checking my pantry, I have half-bottle of Tiparos brand fish sauce left. I’ll nab a bottle of Squid the next time I run down to the Asian grocery

Paul, I’m growing habaneros myself. Please let me know how the vodka turns out. I have no plans for them currently as the plants were a gift from my brother and would love to do something “exotic” with them.


Jesse: I posted a tasting report on the resulting infusion. As it stands, it is way too painful to take straight. I’ve been meaning to dilute it about 4:1 with straight vodka.

It is very good when drizzled (in small amounts!) over meat or another dish that benefits from the addition of capsaicin.

Habaneros are definitely hard to use up in quantity. Try Herr Z.’s suggestions above, or dig up a good jerk recipe.