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five alarm chili

I made a batch of chili the other week, and it really turned out well, it had a fair amount of heat, but was not enough to make me turn red and start to sweat. for various devious and masochistic reasons I would like to make a batch of really red hot chili. The kind that makes your eyes water, nose run, and sweat start to run down your face. Mostly I want to show some of my "wimpy" friends what 5 alarm chili really means.

I am not likely to find a selection of great chili peppers in the store here, so I will be dealing mostly with packaged spices, but if you folks tell me I absolutely must roast my own jalapeno's I'll see what I can find.

What ingredients are on the must include list for five-alarm-chili. A web search was really depressing.... telling me to use lots of tomato products, or to add carrots and corn. Yikes.

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  1. the simplest way to do it is to use a TON of dried chile powder + chili powder. if you can find chipotle and ancho you should be in good shape (ancho is more fruity than hot). use enough, and you'll tear. alternately, put habeneros in it, that does the trick every time. just be careful if you have never worked with them before.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nolangti

      Habaneros will definitely do it, but I really don't like the flavor profile in chili (it goes much better in stuff like curry chicken, or other Caribbean dishes). When I really want to punch up the fire I tend to rely on piquins, both dried and pickled. They've got a good depth of flavor to go along with a substantial amount of heat.

      The easiest way, I suppose, is to just add a bunch of cayenne pepper, though I don't think it adds much in terms of flavor. Combine it with some ancho or pasilla and you might really have something there.

      But, anyway, your first sentence is right on the mark- just pile on the chiles, whichever you choose, to your base recipe.

    2. To my tastes, chipotles en adobo deliver not just plenty of heat, but lots of great flavor. They come in cans at any grocery that has even a minimal Hispanic foods section. I like to use them in conjunction with cayenne powder. Dried ancho, guajillo, cascabel, etc. chiles can add complexity, but if you want to keep it simple, you can without them.

      Other ingredients are pretty much limited to meat of some kind, cumin, Mexican oregano, garlic, onion, etc. And there's nothing wrong with a little tomato paste; if you brown it well it adds depth to the finished product.

      5 Replies
      1. re: alanbarnes

        "chipotles en adobo deliver not just plenty of heat, but lots of great flavor"


        1. re: Fritter

          do i use all the sauce in the jar/can or just the chipotles?

          1. re: KaimukiMan

            Definitely use the adobe sauce. If you have a hand held immersion blender or a food processor you can just puree the peppers into the adobo. For me this is plenty of heat.
            BTW I've been wanting to ask you a question. I was in the market the other day and I saw Hawaiian Huva or Hiva (Sp?). I had no idea what the heck it was. It kinda looked the the top off a plant. Any ideas?

            1. re: Fritter

              I haven't any idea. I thought it might go by a different name locally, but could find no reference. I've got a friend who works at a local market, I'll ask him if he has any idea. Could you describe it a bit more? Size color texture?

              1. re: KaimukiMan

                It was about six inches long, maybe four in diameter and looked like the top of a plant. It came to a point at the tip. It really caught my attention as it was marked as being from Hawaii.

      2. I'd to use a combination of dry and fresh chiles for complexity and heat that will hit you in different parts of your palate. I like chiles de arbol for that middle palate zinger and ancho for back of throat smokiness. Both dry. I like to just quickly rinse them (they do tend to be dusty sometimes) and remove the stems, then blitz in a blender with water and add to the chili. It is seriously potent. I also find that some chopped fresh jalapenos or serranos added towards the end of cooking (maybe that last 30 minutes) adds another layer of heat. I agree that habaneros have a different flavor profile than I'd want in a chili.

        1. The only difference between Wick-Foweler's 2-Alarm Chili Kit and their False-Alarm kit is a packet of 'red pepper' (cayenne). The base for a good Texas chili is a lot of the mild-medium hot ground chile, usually ancho (dried poblano), but you could also use New Mexico varieties. The heat comes from your choice of hot chiles. A trendy hot source is chipotle in adobo (smoke dried jalapenos canned in a tomato sauce).

          Tomatoes, carrots, corn etc are great in a veggie chile, but do nothing for the heat.

          But do you really want a hot chili? A serious chile head would already have his favorite(s) hot sauces and powders. He'd be telling us how he can only find wimpy jalapenos in the grocery. Maybe you should start with a 2-alarm, before moving on to 5. :)

          1 Reply
          1. re: paulj

            paulj raises a good point that is worth highlighting: Ever wonder how the Indian restaurant manages to adjust the spiciness in the dishes when you place your order for "mild," "medium-hot," etc., when the curries were clearly made long before you ordered them? No, they don't have 8 different tubs of Rogan Josh in the walk-in...instead, they make the dishes as mild as they can and simply add cayenne chili powder just before serving to give it the right amount of heat.

            Home cooks can use the same trick, which is useful when different family members or guests have different heat preferences.

            Some dishes, of course, can only be so mild, because they rely on chili peppers for flavour and body in addition to heat. Chili and mole poblano fall into this category, as do some Indian dishes. Culinary cleverness can only go so far to get around this constraint, but here are some ideas:

            1) Substitute some sweet paprika for some of the chili powder.
            2) For Indian dishes, I use the so-called "Kashmiri" chilis instead of the usual whole red chilis. The Kashmiri ones are a bit longer, quite wrinkly, and a deeper colour of red. They are less spicy and add a nice colour to the dish.
            3) If you are using whole chilis, you can obviously seed and de-vein them to tame the heat a bit.

            One thing that I would NOT recommend is to simply dump in a large quantity of chili powder just before serving--this will result in a harsh-tasting dish.

          2. thanks for your suggestions. finding a variety of fresh chili's here in Honolulu is not always easy. I think I can get hold of some fresh/dried poblanos/ancos, but im unlikely to find much more than that. The chipotles in adobo is a good suggestion, the stores here do carry that, I usually use it conservatively as sometimes it tends to add a bitter flavor. I agree that cayenne is good for adding heat, but not much flavor complexity. And yes, I might have to settle for 3 or 4 alarms. Although I grew up in California eating some pretty authentic hot stuff, and I also lived in Korea for a few years, I suspect my tolerance level may have dropped some. But I do want something to make me sweat, as well as show some friends that what they get here at the local drive-in may be good, but it barely qualifies as chili.

            Thanks again. If i get a chance in the next couple of weeks to do it, ill let you know what i did and how it went.

            3 Replies
            1. re: KaimukiMan

              I think any the small hot Asian chiles, such as Thai bird chiles, would work to give heat to a chili.

              I see lots of dried chiles in my local Korean megamart, but don't have a clue as to which are mild and which are hot.

              1. re: paulj

                It's been my experience that for the most part asian chilies tend to be more of a "sharp" heat, less full bodied than chilies from the southwest and Mexico. Asian chilies burn hot and fast, from the very first taste, rather than building over time.... but that is just my perception. Others are sure to disagree.

                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  No, I'd agree with my experience. Never thought about it before though.

                  Anyway, I have no idea how to make it, but where people have said go for a mix, I definitely agree. I have a stock of anchos, chipotles and habeneros, and I always use at least one of each in my chili to great effect.

                  Last time I used two habeneros, which was fine on the day I ate it, not so much the day after.

            2. Does anyone mind sharing a good recipe for five-alarm chili...

              3 Replies
              1. re: cityhopper

                Just what is meant by '5 alarm chili'? Along with the OP, I was assuming it meant one with a lot of chili bite. But one that seems to come up often in a web search is from Paula Dean, which only has 2T of 'chili powder'. That would be a False-alarm chili if using a Wick-Fowler kit.

                1. re: paulj

                  "False alarm chile"

                  TFF To me 5 alarm is hotter than hades.

                2. re: cityhopper

                  This one's a little involved, but I prefer the flavor of reconstituted dried chiles to chile powders:

                  Toast two anchos, one guajillo, one chile negro, and a dozen chiles de arbol until they begin to change color and become fragrant. Rinse them well and remove the stems and seeds. Tear into manageable bits and soak in hot water for 20 minutes or so. While they're soaking, take a can of chipotles en adobo and try to remove most of the seeds. (Note: I only use one or two each of the chile de arbols and chipotle en adobo, but the resulting product isn't "five alarm" hot.) (Another note: it's not absolutely necessary to remove the seeds, but they can be bitter.)

                  Put the chipotles with their sauce in a blender with the rehydrated chiles, and blend until smooth, adding just enough of the soaking water to make a thin paste. Push the pureed chiles through a food mill or mesh strainer.

                  Put a few tablespoons of peanut oil in a 5-quart dutch oven over medium-low heat. Chop a couple of yellow onions and sweat them in the oil. Mince half a dozen cloves of garlic and add them to the onions. Cube a 3# chuck roast in pieces about 3/8". When the onions are translucent, remove them and the garlic from the oil. Raise the heat to high and brown the beef in batches.

                  After removing the last of the beef from the pot, put in 4 tablespoons of tomato paste and brown well. Lower the heat to medium and pour in the chile sauce. Cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring often. If it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, lower the heat a little. Pour in 13 ounces of beer (you figure out what to do with the rest of the second bottle) and return the beef, chile, and onions to the pot with a tablespoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon of ground Mexican oregano.

                  Lower the heat to its lowest setting and simmer, covered, until the meat starts falling apart (probably a couple of hours). Stir often, scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing's sticking. Add more liquid (beef broth or beer) if necessary. Adjust the seasonings. Serve with chopped onions, shredded cheese, and flour tortillas.

                3. You can also use habanero extract added to your favorite chili. This adds heat and no flavor. I use it in many things so i can "customize" my bowl of chili, wing sauce, whatever. You may be able to find it at a decent grocery store otherwise mail order like Firegirl.com.