Top Pick Of The Week

May 5, 2009

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Habanero Jelly

Diane’s Sweet Heat in Blackberry, Mango and Strawberry. Crackers from Photography by Corey Lugg | THE NIBBLE. Styling by Lauren LaPenna.

WHAT IT IS: Small batch jams made with seasonal fruit and habanero chiles.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: A number of people make good artisan jams and good artisan pepper jellies, but these are our first habanero jams.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Each flavor is a wonderful combination of fruit flavors—the featured fruit, the bell pepper and the the habanero (chiles are fruits). The well-developed recipe shows that habanero doesn’t have to be a one-note, searing effect.

Hot Stuff, Sweet Stuff: Diane’s Sweet Heat Habanero Jams

Page 2: Flavors Of Habanero Jam

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Flavors Of Habanero Jam

Each of the six flavors of Diane’s Sweet Heat we tasted has a different personality, but the same family trait: wonderful texture, thanks to the crisp bell peppers chopped into them; fresh fruit flavor, from ripe California fruit; and habanero heat that is just right without being searing. You feel the heat, but it doesn’t take out your taste buds. And, all of them are obviously handmade in a small kettle—you can envision the fruits being cooked and strained by hand in a Foley Food Mill.

We must quickly point out that even with a touch of vinegar in the recipe, these jams are sweet, not savory. As you can see, we used the jam as a topping on vanilla ice cream, and it was just lovely.

The bell peppers, which, like the habaneros, are botanical fruits (fruits carry their seeds inside, the one exception being the strawberry), don’t turn the jams into any kind of vegetal spread. In some flavors you can catch a nuance of the capsicum;* in others, there’s nothing you can put your finger on, but the flesh of the pepper and the habanero add layers of complexity.

Ice Cream
Strawberry habanero jam on vanilla ice cream. There was a paucity of habaneros on the day we took these photos, so this jalapeño pinch-hit.

*Bell pepper is called capsicum in the U.K. Capsicum is the name of the genus to which bell pepper and all chiles belong. Black pepper, Piper nigrum, belongs to a different family entirely—in fact, it is not in any way related to chile and is five levels down from a common meeting place as angiosperm members of the plant kingdom. The reason that Westerners refer to chiles as “peppers” is that when Christopher Columbus first tasted a chile in the New World, the heat reminded him of the black pepper he knew from Europe, and he thus referred to what the natives called “chilli” as pepper. Today, depending on country and region, chile is variously spelled chilli and chili.

A Digression On Chile Heat

It’s the placental tissue—the white, pithy internal membrane—that holds most of the capsaicin Habanero(cap-SAY-sin), the chemical compound that gives a chile heat. Contrary to popular belief, the seeds themselves do not produce any capsaicin. In other words, don’t fear the seeds, they aren’t the least bit hot. Do fear the membrane.

Photo: The white membrane holds most of the heat of the habanero—or any chile. Habaneros can be yellow, orange or red; unripe habaneros are green. Photo by Kenneth Crawford | IST.

While some cooks purée the entire chile, if you want less heat, remove all the white interior membrane and just chop the colored flesh—as you would with a bell pepper. When working with hot chiles, wear disposable rubber gloves (like the doctor uses) until you’ve thrown the membrane away and have washed the knife and cutting board—you don’t want any capsaicin residue on your fingers to get in your eyes. Learn more about capsaicin and chile heat in our Chile Glossary. Now, back to the habanero jam.

  • Blackberry Habanero Jam.  It might be batch variation, the bell pepper and habanero fruit spoke to us most clearly in this flavor—a very interesting and enjoyable chat.
  • Blueberry Habanero Jam. Lush blueberry fruit (better than in most blueberry jams), perfectly offset with a deft touch of habanero heat.
  • Mango Habanero Jam. While the orange color is lovely, this is the one flavor that didn’t “read the script.” The jam is certainly tasty but it isn’t mango-y—more of a generic tropical fruit (we picked up some hints of pineapple).
  • Peach Habanero Jam. No sweet peach confitures, this jam, crunchy with bell pepper flesh, sparing of sugar, is an attractive interpretation. Again, it may be batch variation, but our peach jam was less sweet than the other flavors. Rather than a bread spread, we used it as excellent condiment for poultry and fish—we created an “instant” spicy scallop dish using the jam and some stock to deglaze the pan.
  • Raspberry Habanero Jam. A happy wedding of red raspberry and habanero, this jam ready for morning toast, pancakes, ice cream—or a lovely breast of duck.
  • Strawberry Habanero Jam. We’ve had a few spicy strawberry jams, and this would rank among our favorites.

There’s also a seasonal special:

  • Betsy And Diane’s Christmas Cranberry Habanero Jam. This one’s a charmer and the perfect little stocking stuffer, teacher gift and little something to keep on hand for the people you’ve invariably overlooked. They’re small enough to keep in the glove compartment as you make your holiday rounds.

Speaking of gifts, you could consider asking Diane to make you a few hundred jars—as a wedding favor or a special corporate gift, for example—with your own special label.

Continue To Page 3: Serving Suggestions

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