- Cover illustration Christopher Street / Oklahoma Gazette
There is such a thing as too hot, but that doesnt stop metro residents from seeking out the citys spiciest dishes.
After showing off his fish tanks, greenhouses and the rows where vegetables will soon begin breaking through the ground, Russell Cox reopened his tiny general store near the gated entrance of Tilapia Garden Farms.
The building is mostly empty now, as all the fresh produce he raised last year is long since gone, but on a table up front sit dozens of tiny shakers of dried ground chiles.
The most popular variety sold is, of course, jalapeño.
Everyone can eat jalapeños, he said.
The same cant be said for some of the others on the table, like bhut jolokia (or ghost peppers), naga viper, moruga scorpion peppers and the Guinness World Record holder for hottest chile, Carolina Reapers.
Asked if he has ever eaten a whole Reaper, Cox cocked his head and peered through his glasses like hed never heard anything so crazy.
Hell no, he answered.
- Garett Fisbeck
- Matthew Alvin Brown tastes a raw ghost pepper and Carolina Reaper chile powder.
A few days later, in the Oklahoma Gazette offices, two brave men sat down to a taste test of pain.
Technical analyst Matt Weers and thespian Matthew Alvin Brown skeptically examined packages of ghost pepper and Carolina Reaper flavored beef jerkies from Jerky.com and jalapeño, habanero and bhut jolokia peppers. In the center of the table sat a cup of habanero salsa dosed with Tilapia Garden Farms dried Carolina Reaper powder.
Weers is a self-proclaimed experience seeker.
I actually dont love spicy foods, but maybe Ill love it after this, he said.
Brown is a longtime spice lover who regularly seasons his food with over-the-top heat.
Honestly, I never thought about it, but I think the truth is probably pretty stupid, he admitted. I think eating spicy things was the only macho thing I had to relate to with the males in my family.
Now hes so acclimated to the heat that nonspicy dishes just taste bland.
Ive burned off most of my taste buds, so everything has to be on fire or I wont really taste it, Brown said.
Both Matts were excited and hesitant as they faced the prospect of sampling Carolina Reaper powder and raw ghost peppers.
Ow! Ahhhh. Ahhhhhh! Brown yelped as his eyes grew wider. Flavor-wise, [Reaper powder] is really good. But holy mother! It just keeps building.
When they could take no more, he and Weems gulped down chocolate ice cream to soothe their scorched palates. The wounds required constant tending.
You cant stop eating the ice cream or youre screwed, Brown said.
- Garett Fisbeck
- Matt Weems braces himself before eating another bhut jolokia ghost pepper.
Like Brown, University of Oklahoma maintenance worker Wayne Daddio said he has long craved fiery fare.
I liked hot stuff always, he said. My grandparents had the hot cherry peppers, and they were always feeding them to me, so I built up a tolerance.
Now hes very nearly immune to the potency of the superhots, including Carolina Reapers.
A couple of my buddies, they watch me eat stuff and they freak out. But it doesnt really bother me. I cant explain it, he said. Well make stuff like moruga brownies and scorpion [pepper] ice cream.
Taste and spice dont always go hand in hand, Daddio said. When he and his coworkers amassed a hot sauce collection of nearly 1,000 bottles, they found that the hottest are often the least appetizing.
They taste terrible, he said. Some of them are almost pure capsaicin, so theres not much flavor to it.
When it comes to hot and flavorful varieties, Daddio recommends Torchbearer hot sauces, available at Native Roots Market, 131 NE Second St. For raw peppers, he trusts Tilapia Garden Farms, 507 Oakdale Drive.
Daddio is a fan of flavorful habaneros and Butch Ts, a more piquant strain of Trinidad scorpion peppers.
Theyre really hot, but they have an incredible fruity flavor, Daddio said. Moruga vipers are more earthy. Reapers are actually pretty nasty.
Spice of life
Spicy fare has always been part of Choate House art director Chris Castros life.
I grew up around hot food. As I get older, I kept thinking, This is good. Could be hotter, he said, then admitted, I have had something too hot once.
At now-closed Chubbys Chicken, Castro ordered the hottest wings the restaurant could give him.
I think they were trying to teach me a lesson, he said. It was heat from capsaicin extract, not from just chiles. I tried one and thought, There is no way I can finish this wing. Then I ate all 12.
The experience left his lips and mouth feeling raw, but generally, he finds a lot of pleasure in spicy foods.
He still chases that hot wing sting, especially at Chef Rays Street Eats food truck and Wing Supreme at 3925 N. Lincoln Blvd.
I love the ways it feels exciting, and you get layers of sensations and flavors once you get into the hotter foods, Castro explained. It just makes your nostrils open up and get ready.
He said his son inherited his passion for peppers, too.
He ate some ghost pepper cheese at a friends house and was all about it after everyone fussed, he said.
We mess around with fermented hot sauces here, said Mary Eddys Kitchen x Lounge executive chef Jason Campbell, who dabbles in hotter menu fare for the restaurant. Were waiting on a local farm to grow datil peppers for us. Im from Florida, and they are native.
Similar in heat to habaneros, datils are fruitier and sweeter peppers. For now, Campbell prefers Italian calabrian peppers.
Not a ton ask for it, but we have the firepower ready to go, he said.
Campbell spends a lot of time in the kitchen, but when hes dining out and wants to turn up the heat, he visits Szechuan Bistro, 1010 W. Memorial Road.
Gotta order off the back of the menu for legit items, he said. Always ask for extra mala.
Mala is an oily Chinese sauce that is so spicy it numbs the mouth.
I love the rush you get from the heat and think its cool how many flavors there are in different peppers and spices, Campbell said.
Asian spices also are a favorite of local baker Katie Pennington, who said shes always on the hunt for the hottest dishes in Oklahoma City.
Im currently interested in finding out what the real heat scale is for a Thai place in my neighborhood [Thai Orchid Bistro], she said.
Pennington said she was surprised to learn that some restaurants serve different levels of spicy food depending on the nationality of the customer.
While she thought shed been served the hottest dishes, Thai Orchid served her American hot instead of food on the more intensely spicy Thai hot scale.
So when you order Thai food and say you want the hottest they make, they give you like between a one and a three [on the Thai scale], she said. But the heat can actually be served at a 10. I had no idea restaurants did this until speaking with the owner.
She discovered in many Oklahoma restaurants, protecting American mouths seems to be a top priority.
Sheesh Mahals hot red chicken and the green sauce at Taqueria La Peque are the two hottest foods Ive had in OKC, she said. But I will be putting the Thai heat index to the test this week and ordering a 10 on the scale.
Thai Orchid, 340 S. Mustang Road, in Yukon makes its dishes fresh to order. Its owners also are extremely friendly, she said, which is a plus when customers sometimes want dishes that can literally make grown men cry.
[The owner] said a police officer came in and talked them into giving him a 10 and he was in tears afterward, Pennington said.
The lure of extremely hot foods has been with her since youth, but it wasnt until she was living in Texas that she began actively hunting for spice.
The best thing anyone can get from a food is wanting just a little bit more, she said. Salty and sweet does that, and so does heat. Super-hot food makes you feel like you cant take it anymore while simultaneously reaching for another bite.
Heat adds depth to simple foods, dimension to scrambled eggs or chocolate, she said. Sometimes it can go too far, though.
While trying to make my own curry for the first time, I blindly chopped up some Thai green chiles and threw them in the pot, she said. I had no idea how hot such a tiny pepper could be. It was inedible.
Local comedian BradChad Porter joked that a specific piquant comestible ruined his body.
Ive been into it since high school. I was a freshman, and I went to Buffalo, New York, with my aunt and uncle and tried wings at the bar where they were invented, he said. It started as a test of wills with my uncle, and it became a big part of my diet.
Like Pennington, he discovered Thai food can hurt on a whole different level at Panang Thai Restaurant in Edmond.
Order it hot on their scale. It will cause you a great deal of problems, he said.
Part of the fun of eating spicy foods is the challenge, Porter said.
Im a big fan of turning normal life stuff into games and silliness, he said. Plus, on the other side of pain, there is always a rush of whatever chemicals your brain sends through you to balance you out adrenaline and whatnot.
- Garett Fisbeck
- Tilapia Garden Farms owner Russell Cox said hes concentrating on raising more varieties of superhot chiles for customers this year.
We call them pepperheads, said Cox of the people who seek him out at Tilapia Garden Farms.
He sells two pounds of some of the hottest chiles to Chelinos Mexican Restaurant every few weeks.
Hell give you the real hot sauce, Cox said. Ask him for the Russ stuff.
This year, hes bumping up the number of pepper plants and focusing on the exotic varieties so many locals prize. The best season for growing superhots is in Oklahoma Citys super-hot summers, he said. Cox processes the peppers for customers by cutting them in half, dehydrating them for 30 hours and then grinding them while he wears two pairs of gloves and a mask. Even with all that protection, he still has issues with the heat.
After a while, the Reaper gets in your skin, he said. When you take a shower and that hot water hits, wooo!
And though Cox has nibbled a raw Carolina Reaper, hell leave devouring the chiles to the pepperheads.
- Greg Elwell
- Habanero and ghost pepper salsa at Chelinos Mexican Restaurant, 1605 N. Meridian Ave.
Chilenos Mexican Restaurants hottest hot sauce1 Trinidad moruga scorpion pepper 1 ghost pepper 1 habanero pepper 1 Carolina Reaper pepper 1 tomatillo fresh garlic to taste salt to taste fresh cilantro
Wearing gloves, dice all the peppers and combine them with minced fresh garlic and chopped tomatillo, and salt to taste. Add in chopped fresh cilantro, and then blend.
Pepper pickerWilbur Scoville was an American chemist who will forever be linked to spicy foods. In 1912, he developed the Scoville Organoleptic Test to rate chile pepper pungency. Basically, he diluted pepper extracts with sugar syrup until its heat could no longer be felt. The more it was diluted, the higher the heat units. Bell peppers are exceptionally mild, so their score is zero. But as home gardeners and botanists continue cultivating new strains of hot peppers, the upper limits of the Scoville Scale creep higher. In 2013, Smokin Ed Curries Carolina Reaper became the Guinness World Record holder for hottest chile with an average rating of 1.56 million Scoville heat units. Lots of peppers can burn you out, but how do they taste? Heres a guide to some of the most popular chiles around.
- two red pimento with pure white background
- two poblano chiles
Poblano Scoville heat units: 1,000-1,500 Excellent grilled or stuffed, as in a chile relleno dish, pobla- nos are some of Mexicos most popular peppers. They have a mild, earthy flavor and a manageable heat. Their thicker skin means theyre best eaten when cooked.
- Green jalapeno pepper isolated over the white background
Jalapen?o Scoville heat units: 2,500-8,000 Jalapen?os are ubiquitous because theyre easy to grow and havea crisp, green flavor and a heat that can span from not too bad to please, waiter, I need another glass of milk.
- Vibrant Peppers Isolated on White with a Clipping Path.
Serrano Scoville heat units: 10,000-23,000 About five times hotter than jalapen?os, serranos are longer and thinner but with a jump in heat. Their thin skin makes them easy to eat raw, especially chopped in fresh salsas.
- Hot red pepper. Isolated object. Element of design.
Cayenne Scoville heat units: 30,000-50,000 Commonly used in Cajun cooking, cayenne peppers are most often seen dried and ground into powder. Pungent and lively, the reddish-orange fruits add a sharp heat to meats and vegetables.
- Thai hot pepper (Capsicum annuum Thai hot pepper). Called Bird eye chili Bird's chili Thai chili Thai dragon and Boonie pepper also. Image of single pepper isolated on white background
Thai Scoville heat units: 50,000-100,000 Sometimes called birds eye chiles because of their shape, Thai peppers are small but powerful. They have a grassy flavor that is quickly overwhelmed by their heat.
- Fresh Yellow orange ripe habanero hot chili pepper from caribbean or mexico. Isolated on white.
- bhut jolokia, the hottest pepper in the world
- very strongly hot pepper Carolina Reaper or HP22B
Learn moreTilapia Garden Farms 507 Oakdale Drive tilapiagarndenfarm.wixsite.com/tilapia-granden 405-650-8427
Jerky.com multiple metro locations jerky.com 1-877-975-3759
Native Roots Market 131 NE Second St. nativerootsmarket.com 405-310-6300
Chef Rays Street eats food truck facebook.com/chefraysstreeteats 405-531-2871
Wing Supreme 3925 N. Lincoln Blvd. facebook.com/wingsupremeokc 405-702-5464
Mary Eddys Kitchen x Lounge 900 W. Main St. maryeddysokc.com 405-982-6960
Szechuan Bistro 1010 W. Memorial Road foodcoral.com/szechuanbistro 405-752-8889
Thai Orchid Bistro 340 S. Mustang Road, Yukon facebook.com/thaiorchidbistro 405-265-4107
Sheesh Mahal 4621 N. May Ave. places.singleplatform.com/sheesh-mahal 405-778-8469
Taqueria La Peque 10598 W. Reno Ave. 580-603-2530
Panang Thai restaurant multiple metro locations panangthaifood.com
Chelinos Mexican restaurant Multiple metro locations chelinos.net
print headline: Heat wave, There is such a thing as too hot, but that doesnt stop metro residents from seeking out the citys spiciest dishes.