One of my favorite Chefs in Latin America is Gustavo, my father. His style is very original and he assures me that 90% of his success is the quality of the fresh ingredients he uses. We both share this essential philosophy about food. This holiday I packed the family and we traveled to South America to celebrate thanksgiving with him. The spirit of the celebration was American: we gave thanks for the many blessings in our lives, but the menu was very Latin and eclectic. Gustavo made an outstanding baked red snapper and wondefully juicy, tender pork ribs while my wife and I made a simple and delicious pork loin with herbs. We toasted with South American wines (a Chilean Errazuris Pinot Noir and an Argentinean Addagio Reserva Malbec).
We spent the rest of the week researching the wonderful flavors of the different Colombian chorizos and researching some very interesting spices for sausages. I'm bringing back some great ideas to the plant from this trip.
UCLA graduate students exploring Specialty Foods in Los Angeles came over yesterday to chat. We had a very fun conversation about great food, and they saw how we make our recipes. We shared stories about life in Oaxaca and Paraguay (they were quite the travelers and adventurers), they took back some salsa and Cecina Seca to share with their classmates and roommates and I even got Diana Denham, a vegetarian, to taste our Dried Beef...She was embarrassed to like it so much (her words). We won't hold it against her, and I think she will enjoy our Vegetarian chorizos without any guilt. Shoshana Krieger seemed more reasonable (I'm sorry, but there is something unreasonable about vegetarians), and I am sure she is now enjoying a cold cerveza with the Cecina Seca con Chile she took. Both have very interesting lives and both are very intelligent and curious about great specialty food in Los Angeles. I can't wait to read what else they discover in their quest for excellent foods and to read their great reviews about our products.
I love giving tours of our plant to curious kids. The other day a very smart kid asked me: How do you know how hot are your Chiles? The question gave me the opportunity to take them to the kitchen and show them first hand how we do it. It was a beautiful lesson that mixed culture, psychology, a little bit of science and a whole lot of culinary fun.
Most people measure the heat of chiles using a machine called a High Pressure Liquid Chromatograph. It is very accurate, but here at Don Pedro's we prefer a much more old fashioned method: our tongues.
The way we do it is very similar to the way Scoville did almost 100 years ago. We soak our crushed chiles in alcohol overnight. Then we taste this extract diluting it in sugar water in little increments and taste it until we cannot feel the heat any longer. The amount of sugar-water needed to dilute the extract is the Don Pedro's Unit of Heat or DPUH's, as Connie, our head of production calls them. Of course this number is a little subjective and it depends on who does the tasting, because all tongues are different. Usually it is Connie and I who do it, and we average our numbers.
Sure, we could get a HPLC machine, but it wouldn't be as much fun.
One drawback about this method is that I can usually only do about 4 tests in a given day.
The hottest chile we have tasted here at the plant was a Habanero, last year. It was 375,000 DPHUs. To put it in perspective, a Jalapeno is about 4,000 DPHUs, the original tabasco sauce is about 3,500 DPHUs and self-defense pepper spray is about 2 million DPHUs (although I've never personally tested this one).