January was a busy month for news items, with many companies announcing events and our postman has been busy delivering new product for review including The Chilli Jam Man, Twisted 7 sauces and Chilli Wizards amongst others. I would like to also welcome “Lady Cin” to the review team, who may be familiar and has reviewed for us in the past under a different name.
I have updated and collated as many UK Chilli Events as possible this last month on our Events Diary (Right hand side of Homepage) so people can plan their summer activities. It is worth pointing out that two of the larger events have recently changed their dates due to unforeseen circumstances. These are the 5th Upton Cheyney which is now only taking place on the one day, Saturday 7th September. The other is theGreat Dorset Chilli Festival which is now taking place on the 3rd & 4th August.
So here we have the articles published in January:
News & General Information (In order of appearance)
A long time ago in a galaxy far away, a group of Chilli Padawans travelled from far and wide to tackle a challenge of epic proportions. Would they be able to conquer the towering inferno that stood before them, or would a disturbance in the force lead them down the path of failure? Read on to find out…
Back in December, Darth Naga and a few brave souls (myself included) met up for a Darth Naga’s Funhouse ‘O’ Pain Christmas gathering. Since a few of us had previously tackled challenges at Paul’s Pizza and the Red Dog Saloon, the quest was on to find another challenge to test even the most seasoned chilli-head. Hailed as potentially the “World’s Hottest Burger”, Atomic Burger’s Fallout Challenge ticked all of the right boxes, so with some trepidation we headed to Oxford to see if we could earn a place on their Top 100 Wall of Flame.
Atomic Burger opened its Oxford restaurant in 2009 and a second restaurant in Bristol last year. The Fallout Challenge started life as the Godzilla Challenge – a huge burger with a massive helping of fries and only 1 hour to complete it. In May 2012, Atomic Burger decided to increase the challenge by adding an extreme chilli sauce and so the Fallout Challenge was born.
The big day came and after a chaotic drive down the A34 to Oxford, I parked my car and headed for the restaurant. The outside of the restaurant features two large Atomic Burger logos and is decorated with a vast array of comic book covers – It definitely stands out from the other businesses on Cowley Road!
As I stepped through the entrance the first thing that struck me is just how busy it was. Granted it was Saturday lunchtime, but there wasn’t a single empty table in the whole restaurant. Luckily, we’d booked in advance! Darth Naga and the gang were already here, so I made my way across to our table. There were 6 of us in total – Darth Naga, Chris Whitehouse, Jon Doody, Mike Johnston, Ashley Ground and me.
As I was running late, Chris had kindly ordered me the Fallout Challenge – there was no chance of backing out now. Chris and Darth had both passed on the challenge this time leaving 4 of us to sit and contemplate what we’d let ourselves in for.
Whilst we were waiting, I took a look at the other items on the menu. These included ribs, hot dogs, sandwiches and a staggering selection of over 20 different burgers – most of which are named after famous figures. Unlike other burger restaurants, Atomic Burger gives you the choice of having beef, chicken or vegetarian patties with every burger on their menu which is nice to see.
A few moments later, a waiter appeared with disposable gloves and a “disclaimer & liability release form” for each of us. This served as a gentle reminder of the perils that lay ahead.
Darth Naga had previously completed the challenge at Atomic Burger’s second restaurant in Bristol and felt we would all stand a good chance of completing it. His words of encouragement were of little comfort though as the waiter appeared from the kitchen carrying possibly the biggest plate of food I have ever seen.
Three 6oz burgers, three slices of American cheese, two deep-fried cheese & tomato pizza buns, three servings of chilli & garlic fries and lashings of XXX Fallout Ghost Chilli Hot Sauce.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s one of Jon Doody holding the Fallout Pizza Burger.
As Jon held the plate of food aloft, the enormity of the challenge dawned on me. The fourth plate soon emerged from the kitchen and the waiter asked if everyone was ready. After a few nods of agreement, the timer was started.
Everyone else seemed to dive straight into the burgers, but I decided to take a different approach and started with the chilli & garlic fries. A minute later and there were a few groans and hiccups from across the table – perhaps this challenge wasn’t going to be as easy as we’d anticipated.
Undeterred, I continued with the fries and finished them in around 4 minutes. With half the plate cleared, the challenge looked a lot more manageable. I proceeded to cut the burger into bite size pieces and then tackled the first of the pizza buns. By this point, a few spectators had gathered to the side of our table and I was feeling confident.
My progress was starting to slow, but after 10 minutes I had finished 1 pizza bun, two burgers and all of the fries. Only a single burger and pizza bun stood between me and a place of their Wall of Flame, but I was fast approaching the dreaded “Food Wall”.
I took a break for a few minutes and looked around the room hoping to draw inspiration from one of the cartoon figurines or movie characters that decorated the walls, but alas I couldn’t manage another bite. Everyone else was struggling too and despite words of abuse encouragement from Darth Naga, we’d all thrown in the towel by the 30 minute mark. As we recovered, we learned that the sauce is made with Cayenne pepper,fresh chillies and 5M SHU chilli extract! As we left the restaurant we were each handed a loser’s t-shirt.
At the time of writing the success rate of this challenge was around 12%, which is much higher than I expected. Even so, there’s no denying that this is an incredibly difficult challenge.
Overall, the food was really good. The burgers were cooked well and the chilli & garlic fries were delicious. The staff and atmosphere of the restaurant were excellent too. My only gripe is the cost of the Fallout Challenge – £25.
For the money you do get a lot of food and a t-shirt, but I believe the challenge would be a lot more attractive if it were priced between £15 and £18 with t-shirts only being awarded to the winners.
That aside, I did enjoy my visit to Atomic Burger and look forward to trying something else from their extensive menu in the future.
Jenny Song and her partner John run China Spice from a base in West Sussex. Jenny is a well established Chinese cook with a wealth of experience cooking authentic Chinese food, which is nothing like the takeaways we indulge in here in the UK. China Spice are importers of Chillies and Spices from China, specifically the Chengdu, Sichuan region of China which is where Jenny grew up.
This region of China is well known for its Chillies, something I was not aware of until I had the opportunity to visit Jenny & John last year at their base. There are incredible photos of the Chinese drying chillies in their millions, chillies on rooftops, hanging off anything which will allow them to dry evenly.
The region is known for its Dragon Back Chillies, which are named after the man made terracing of the steep hills to accommodate the growing of rice, these contoured hills have been around for over 700 years and from a distance resemble the scales on a Dragons back. These Chillies are very much sought after in China and are an ingredient in the main chilli sauce made in the region called Pixian Douban. This sauce consists of broad beans and chillies and sits in clay pots until it has fermented.
China Spice also sell authentic kits to enable people to create the authentic tastes of Sichuan, with no sign of any MSG. The most famous of these is the Huo Guo or Hot Pot, cooked in a round metal dish which is divided in two in a “Ying and “Yang shape.
The sauce that comes in the kit goes in one side after cooking in a wok to create a fiery hot dipping style sauce and the other made to be milder, ideally heated at the table but can be heated in the kitchen, other ingredients can be added or pre cooked and dipped into the sauce/stock, meat, vegetables, the list is endless.
They also sell a Mapo Doufu sauce, which is as authentic to the Chengdu region as it could be as the recipe came from there and the restaurant that first served it is still open for business. This sauce is made to go with Tofu but other ingredients can be added, and can make a relatively bland ingredient come to life.
Here’s Carl Anderson demonstrating how easy this is to cook
Now in the video Carl talks about Sichuan Flower Peppers, not to be confused with normal peppercorns or even supermarket Sichuan Flower Peppers. These are a fairly unique ingredient and something I had never come across until I saw China Spice at the Fiery Foods UK Chilli Festival in Brighton last year. These are not actually a pepper but related to the Citrus family. They grow like berries and are dried.
China Spice were giving out samples, and inviting people to gently chew and move the pepper around the mouth and wait for the sensation to take effect.
These are not spicy in the Chilli sense but give a fizzing numbness around the mouth like nothing else, they stimulate your saliva glands and the effect can last 30 minutes or more. The effect can be likened to licking a battery (not that I would advise that!) and is very potent, and works like a mild anesthetic, apparently in China, they are used to reduce tooth ache.
People have described these as having the “Willy Wonka” effect and I can see why. From the photos you can see that they are actually the husks from around the seeds which are black. China Spices Sichuan Flower Peppers have minimal seeds and according to Jenny, less reputable sources will have lots to seeds in the bag which adds to the weight. If you have never tried these then I would urge you to contact China Spice and buy a small bag to try them, they are certainly unique!
So pay China Spice’s website a visit and maybe buy a bag of Flower Peppers, you really should try them once!
Joy & Michael of Seaspring Seeds are experts in the growing of Chillies and other veg, here Michael shows that a greenhouse or polytunnel is not essential for successful Chilli growing ;
“One of our FAQs is ‘How do you grow chillies on a window sill?’. Our stock answer is, ‘With a bit of care’. As you can imagine, growing a tropical plant like chillies on a window sill – where heat and light are in short supply – is not an ideal scenario. It is, however, perfectly possible to do with some success. However, to get best results a few considerations must first be made.
Please note: this list assumes you already have a plant. It does not cover growing the plants from seed. That’s a whole other matter (check our website for details on this), and instead, we’re starting at the point where you’ve already got young plants ready for transplanting and growing on.
• Use a south facing window. The south side of British homes get the most sunlight, and this is where the plants should be grown. East and west facing windows might do, but the plants will struggle. If you have the time and discipline, you could move plants around the house to follow the sun and get more light on them. Another trick is to put a mirror or some reflective material (available from hydroponic shops) behind the plants to shine the light back on them. But whatever you do, forget about using north facing windows – you’re simply wasting your time putting plants there.
• Choose short, compact varieties that are adapted to small pots. Smaller varieties grown in small pots will fit on a window sill without falling over.
• Grow only pungent varieties. However much you try, yields of fruit will be lower from plants grown on a window sill compared to those in a conservatory, tunnel or greenhouse. To compensate for lower yields, choose a variety that produces fruit with high heat levels – you will at least make something back.
• Do not over water or excessively fertilise. Because of lower light levels, plants grown on a window sill need to be watered and fertilised less often than those in a greenhouse or tunnel. Add water only when the compost begins to dry out, and give a liquid feed no more than once every three or four weeks. • Place the pots in a plate or dish. No matter how careful you are with watering, some of the water will inevitably escape through the hole in the bottom of the pot. Putting the pots in a dish or plate will catch the water and prevent it from spreading over the window sill and making a mess of things.
• Control aphids. Aphids or greenflies will, at some point, attack your chilli plants. To bring them under control, wash them off under a stream of water, or spray the plants with an innocuous pesticide that won’t poison you or members of your family.
• Shake the plants or hand-pollinate the flowers. In the still conditions of the house, flowers may not pollinate and set fruit. Shaking the plants daily or hand pollinating the just-opened flowers with a small paintbrush may help, though be warned – low light levels might cause flowers to drop, in which case there is nothing you can do except expose the plants to more light.”