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Sidebar -- "Salsa Without Tears", October 1996


Wow! The aromatic of a fresh raw habanero -- I'm talking about an orange, ripe one -- smells like passion fruit or guavas, apricots and orange blossoms, all mixed up with green herbs and a piquancy your nose can detect. All the flowers and fruit come through in the taste as well, along with sweetness and a tangerine tang -- and a glorious heat that overtakes the front two-thirds of your mouth and heightens your senses.

These are not Scotch bonnet peppers, the latter being more aggressively flavored (though noticeably smaller) and equally hot. The related Scotch bonnet looks different, too, usually smaller and sunken at the shoulder with a stem that rises form a nipple-shaped bump.

A final note about habaneros: we use so little of them in each dish that I recommend buying a handful when you find them and storing them whole in the freezer up to 3 months. Frozen ones slice in half easily and taste as good to me as fresh ones in cooked sauces and even in fresh salsas, where there's so little chile that the textural difference is hard to notice.

Stats: An average habanero ranges from light green to bright orange, is about 1/3 ounce, about 1 1/2 inches long by 1 inch wide at the squared-off but not sunken shoulder, the lantern-shaped body quickly tapering to a point just before the end; almost all will be deeply dimpled and the points of some will look like a nipple.

Copyright © 1996 by Rick Bayless. All rights reserved.
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