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Harissa - should it be so bitter?

prunefeet Oct 16, 2010 12:24 PM

I just picked up some harissa, it's a tunisian brand and comes in a can...it's hot and very bitter. Should it be so bitter? The bitterness kind of obscures any other flavor. Should I try another brand or is this just what harissa is like? Please advise!

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    CoconutMilk RE: prunefeet Oct 16, 2010 12:43 PM

    I've had canned harissas that are unpatalably bitter as well. I think part of it is the canning process and part of it is the bitterness of the types of peppers used in the paste. My homemade versions have also been a little bitter, which I suppose comes from the guajillo, ancho and other dried chiles I've used. I keep telling myself I need to love harissa because I generally love any spicy condiment but I have yet to find a brand that is worth buying or a version that is worth making again,

    2 Replies
    1. re: CoconutMilk
      prunefeet RE: CoconutMilk Oct 17, 2010 01:15 PM

      Thanks CoconutMilk, that's exactly how I feel, like I'm supposed to like it. No matter, I used it anyway and it did not spoil the dish I was making, which was a winter root vegetable tagine. Next time I feel like trying harissa again I'll see if I like the jarred stuff more, you may be right about the canning process causing the bitterness.

      1. re: CoconutMilk
        k
        kamper RE: CoconutMilk Oct 21, 2010 07:33 PM

        I've only had European canned harissa which wasn't bitter and my Tunisian husband loved. I make my own and it's never been bitter. I always use dried jalapenos (japones) which makes for a super spicy harissa that is delicious. In Tunisia, to make homemade harissa (harissa arabi) they use red peppers that are dried in the sun and add a lot more salt than you would think is necessary.

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        Harters RE: prunefeet Oct 17, 2010 01:57 PM

        I use Le Phare du Cap Bon, which is Tunisian and comes in a tube. Not bitter and nicely hot and spicy

        1 Reply
        1. re: Harters
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          chickenbruiser RE: Harters Nov 14, 2010 10:32 AM

          I second the Cap Bon harissa (good for making spicy red coucous). I never get the Dea and only the Cabanon if my local grocer's are out of my brand.

        2. Rich102 RE: prunefeet Oct 22, 2010 01:45 AM

          I've been using "Dea" brand Harissa paste (made in France) as a base for the sauce, using a recipe from The New Vegetarian by Colin Spencer, and I've never noticed a bitter taste. The recipe calls for 4 tsp of the paste to be mixed with over three cups of tomatoes, lemon juice, and lime juice (plus several spices and some sambal oelek) and comes out nicely hot and very flavorful. The other ingredients could mute any bitterness in the paste.

          Unfortunately, when I Googled "Dea harissa", I found a UK item from their Food Standards Agency stating that containers with a best by date up thru 21/1/2006 are "contaminated with the illegal dye, Sudan I." So I guess I'd better get some fresher stuff.

          1. Will Owen RE: prunefeet Oct 22, 2010 10:02 PM

            I've had the DEA, which I did not so much care for - it's too finely ground, and has more heat than flavor. My favorite is Le Cabanon, another French brand in a metal tube (the label boasts, "En Tube!"). This is available from a vendor on Amazon. The cost of shipping for one tube is ridiculous, but I bought a dozen for not much more than $2 each, shipping included, or about half of what I paid for one tube at the Pasta Shop in Berkeley. It's a lovely condiment, and mixed with equal parts olive oil and mayonnaise it's a wonderful coating for fish, lamb, chicken or pork that you might want to quick-roast in a hot oven for dinner.

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              mtchef RE: prunefeet Oct 24, 2010 04:58 PM

              make harissa yourself its easy. all you need is a blender and spices, olive oil, garlic.

              1. b
                Breezychow RE: prunefeet Oct 24, 2010 05:12 PM

                No, harissa should not be bitter. While I do know that I can make it myself, I thoroughly enjoy a bottled - not canned, bottled - brand that is just wonderful. It's put out by "Robert Rothschild Farm" & is called "Harissa Morrocan Sauce". Great stuff. Nice & spicy with a lot of flavor depth & no saltiness. Great as a dipping sauce or for use in any Morrocan dish. I love the stuff & try to always have a bottle on hand. Buy it at our local Harris Teeter supermarket.

                1. prunefeet RE: prunefeet Nov 12, 2010 01:20 PM

                  Thanks everyone for your input. I'll seek out Harissa in jars next time, or possibly try making it myself.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: prunefeet
                    c
                    Claudette RE: prunefeet Nov 13, 2010 07:25 PM

                    Williams-Sonoma carries a jar for $7 and it's very spicy and salt - not bitter at all. A bit expensive, but convenient to my house.

                    1. re: Claudette
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                      meflin RE: Claudette Nov 14, 2010 09:04 AM

                      Harissa spice blend is available from The Savory Spice shop Very delicious.

                      http://www.savoryspiceshop.com/blends...

                      Meflin

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