Some Like it Hot
Columbians Keep It Spicy
BY AUDRA JENKINS
It may be the dead of winter, but Columbia is hot! Warm up this month with some of CoMo’s spiciest offerings, from Columbia chefs who are as talented with fire as they are with flavor. These spicy and savory selections are guaranteed to tickle your taste buds, whatever the season.
Turn Up The Heat (Gradually)
When Laila Farooq, a University of Missouri graduate student and Fulbright Scholar, came to the Midwest in 2012 from Pakistan, she wasn’t sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t spicy food. A self-described spicy food lover, Farooq ordered a curry dish at Bangkok Gardens. When asked what level of heat she preferred, she skipped right past the 1 (mild) and 2 (medium), barely glanced at 3 (hot), and briefly considered 4 (authentic Thai). “Level 5 (volcanic),” she decided — the hotter, the better. After all, how hot could mid-Missouri “hot” be?
“I was on a date,” Farooq recalls, “so I was embarrassed to admit the food was too spicy.” She took small bites and ate “lots of rice. Lots and lots of rice.”
John Pham, co-owner of Bangkok Gardens, says diners should always follow the “golden rule” when it comes to ordering spicy food; the chefs can always add more heat to taste. While all dishes at Bangkok can be made spicier, there are a few that skip Level 1 and start at Level 2 and those dishes are known for their heat. Some of the spicier offerings are the curry dishes — Coconut Curry, Green Curry Lo Mein and Phat Pla Mhung. Phat Kaprow is a dish stir-fried in oyster chili paste. Thom Yum Ghung, a fiery hot-and-sour seafood soup, is a popular request. Most dinner entrees are $12.50, and a select number of dishes are also offered at lunch for $8.95.
811 Cherry St.
Loyal patrons of Columbia’s southside 44 Stone Public House and its hearty English pub fare might be surprised at the lack of livers and lamb on the menu at its downtown location, 44 Canteen. Not to worry: Canteen 44 proprietor/co-chef Mark Sulltrop and chef Chris Dignan are churning out excellent menu items that include everything from Asian to Latin, each with its own twist. Sometimes the twist is spicy, like the Sloppy Disco Fries ($9) — a plate of house fries heaped with chile queso sauce, spicy chicken chorizo, chipotle sauce, sharp cheddar, pickled jalapeños and cilantro. Those pickled jalapeños, which can accompany any dish on request, are referred to in-house as “hop-a-peños” since their pickling recipe includes Logboat Beer’s Snapper IPA.
Another option is 44 Canteen’s most popular burger. The Korean Burger ($10) is ground 44 Stone pork belly and Black Angus beef topped with Muenster cheese, ssamjang mayo, cucumber kimchi and lettuce on a brioche bun. Like most of the restaurant’s ingredients, the ssamjang sauce and kimchi are made from scratch, allowing the chefs to add ingredients such as Korean hot pepper paste for a spicy sensation. Borrowing from the American South, 44 Canteen also offers its own take on Nashville’s signature hot chicken. Sulltrop’s version is a boneless sandwich using chicken brined in ale and fried with a buttermilk batter. Cayenne and chili powder give it a nice bite. A milder Sunday brunch version includes a house-made cinnamon-honey syrup ($6).
21 N. Ninth St.
Ask For Authentic
At Bamboo Terrace, on Columbia’s west side, you’ll find an abbreviated paper takeout menu not unlike a number of other Chinese restaurants. For those looking for spicier options, owner Celeste Chen advises checking out the “authentic Chinese” section of the fuller in-house menu, also available online. Chen’s husband does much of the cooking, and he can make most dishes to order at mild, medium, regular or extra-hot spice levels. The stews and hot pots are popular selections; the Boiled Fish Fillets with Pickled Cabbage ($14.95) is an oft-requested hot dish, as is the Assorted Hot Pot with pork belly, chicken, beef, prawns, pork tripe sausage and mixed vegetables ($15.95). English-only speakers, beware — Chen points out that the MaLa Chicken Hot Pot with Potatoes ($13.95) comes with its own warning. In Chinese, Ma means “numb” and La means “spicy.” Many of Bamboo Terrace’s most popular dishes are also served as lunch specials Monday through Friday with soup, appetizer and rice ($7.95).
3101 W. Broadway, Suite 101
Hot Hot Wings
No list of hot foods is complete without hot wings, and CJ’s in Tiger Country has it covered. Serving up specialty wings to college students and locals since 1989, CJ’s has won customers’ loyalty with fresh, quality chicken and made-from-scratch sauces. Owners Ty and Ashley Moore took over the restaurant in 2009, but they have kept the same atmosphere and recipes that built CJ’s reputation as one of Columbia’s go-to wing spots.
CJ’s has a variety of sauces, including the traditional Hot and the Sweet Heat BBQ, but there’s one sauce that people talk about most: B.Y.F.O. The acronym stands for Burn Your Face Off (regulars pronounce it bahy-foh). CJ’s describes its trademark wings as “likely to cause extreme delight, sweating and massive consumption of cold beverages.” CJ’s hot sauces are available for purchase by the bottle online and in the East Broadway restaurant where you can pick up or dine in on wings by the pound (starting at $7.99). Check CJ’s Facebook page for special announcements such as the popular wing buffets.
CJ’s in Tiger Country
704 E. Broadway
Down South Spice
The vintage sign announcing the location of Glenn’s Cafe has moved around through the years. Now on the corner of Eighth and Cherry streets, the sign beckons diners to the creative New Orleans-inspired dishes of chef Chris Pender.
Patrons can request the level of heat they desire in Pender’s signature Blackened Redfish ($11) that he prepares with a special in-house blended Glenn’s Cafe New Orleans blackening spice. The Pastalaya ($18) — a mix of shrimp, smoked duck, andouille and house-made tasso and penne in a spicy brown seafood reduction — also uses the special spice blend in its Creole sauce. Of course, you’ll find traditional jambalaya (chicken, shrimp and andouille, $8) on this Cajun-influenced menu; add a side of Creole sauce for more heat and flavor.
Glenn’s Cafe also provides dining service for the adjacent Tiger Hotel, which means Glenn’s is open 365 days a year. The restaurant serves a Sunday brunch with a slightly altered menu and what is rumored to be the spiciest Bloody Mary in town — a concoction that includes red and green Tabasco, raw horseradish and, of course, that signature blackening spice ($8).
29 S. Eighth St.
How You Like It
At India’s House, where Bobby Singh and family have been serving Columbians for the past 13 years, spice talk means a flavor discussion. The rich combination of spices in Indian food doesn’t necessarily mean the dishes will be hot, but they definitely can be prepared that way. India’s House offers individuals a sliding scale of 1 to 10 when ordering dishes. Singh’s son, Sonny Singh, who works in the restaurant, encourages people to order conservatively if they’re not sure.
“We want people to enjoy our food. If it’s too mild, please let us know! We can always make it hotter,” he says.
The most popular dish at India’s House is the Chicken Tikka Masala, served in a spicy cream sauce ($11.99). Vindaloo, a tangy nondairy dish, is another entrée that tends to the spicy side ($10.99). India’s House also offers a daily lunch buffet for $8.99 ($9.99 weekends). Singh says the buffet remains around Level 3 spiciness, but regulars know they can always ask for a side of chili powder or hot sauce to increase the heat.
1101 E. Broadway
Since taking over as owners of La Terraza three years ago, Maria and Luis Ramirez have attempted to introduce customers to a larger variety of traditional Mexican dishes than those ordinarily found in mid-Missouri. For customers seeking spicy Mexican dishes, there are several choices both on and off the menu. Spicy seafood lovers will enjoy the Camarones a la Diabla ($12.99) — shrimp prepared with onions, jalapeños, tomatoes and chipotle sauce and served with rice, beans and salad. The Camaron Aguachile ($11.99) — prepared with a special Aguachile sauce made from bell pepper, cilantro, jalapeño, and black pepper — is another popular shrimp choice, one that Maria laughs and says has a reputation as a hangover cure. There’s also a seafood soup, Sopa de Mariscos ($14.99), with shrimp, fish, octopus and oysters; diners may request it spicy.
Regulars who want a taste of heat know to ask for the house-made red and green sauces (salsa roja and salsa verde) along with their regular entrées, or they might request chiles toreados(roasted whole jalapeños) to bite into while eating their street tacos.
La Terraza Mexicana Grill
1412 Forum Blvd.
Pizza With Pizzazz!
When spicy food cravings set in, pizza doesn’t traditionally come to mind. But John Gilbreth — owner and Pizza Master at Pizza Tree — never set out to open a traditional pizza parlor. Pizza Tree, at its Cherry Street location since October 2014, serves up specialty pies, including the spicy Banh Mi. Inspired by the popular classic Vietnamese sandwich, the Banh Mi is topped with Sriracha-glazed pork belly, house-made kimchi, chili aioli and fresh cilantro.
Pizzas can be ordered for dine-in, carryout, or delivery ($14.65 for 12-inch, $22.45 for extra-large 18-inch; gluten-free crust also available). You’ll also find the Bahn Mi in regular rotation among the pizza-by-the-slice selections, available all day, every day.
Not sure you’re up for the Banh Mi? Try building your own pizza with spicy Italian sausage and in-house pickled jalapeños. And if you’re dining in, there’s always a bottle of homemade hot sauce nearby, known at Pizza Tree as “Kill Da’ Wabbit” sauce. Its carrot juice base flavored with serrano peppers brings “the sweet with a little heat” to spice up other specialty pizzas such as Ranch Hands and Secret Margherita.
909 Cherry St.
Fast-Casual Fusion Food
Maybe you’ve had spicy Tex-Mex food, but how about Korean-Mex? Seoul Taco, the Korean-Mexican fusion restaurant that opened its Columbia location last March, brings the heat and flavors of traditional South Korean dishes to a popular taco and burrito delivery system. Lauren Johnson, the Columbia restaurant’s general manager, says all employees of Seoul Taco learn how to make the dishes, but it’s her husband, prep chef Cabe Johnson, who does most of the work preparing the flavorful meats, sides and sauces.
The restaurant makes a traditional kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage dish, that pairs with many of their entrées. Seoul Taco also offers a Korean version of American slaw with a more subtle heat. Gochujang Sauce, made with a special hot pepper paste shipped from Korea, can be added to dishes, including the popular Gogi Bowl ($7), a mixture of rice, fresh vegetables, fried egg, carrots, green onions and sesame oil. For a spicier dish, diners can substitute fried rice (with kimchi slaw and sauce cooked into it) for white rice. Entrées offer a choice of bulgogi steak, chicken, spicy pork or tofu and include tacos ($2.50), quesadillas ($6), burritos ($8) and nachos ($8).
Seoul Taco is a sure bet for a late night craving: it’s open until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
1020 E. Broadway
It’s All About The Sauce
At Shotgun Pete’s BBQ Shack, the downtown barbecue joint that owner and pitmaster Philip Peters Jr. named after his dad, there’s a sauce for everyone. With one mild exception, all of Peters’ made-from-scratch sauces have more than a bit of bite.
For entry-level heat, try Kansas City Style (bold and spicy), Texas Style (not as sweet as the others) or Southern Mustard (sweet and spicy with an apple-based flavor). To take it up a notch, try your pulled pork with Carolina Pig Juice, a sauce made with crushed red peppers, black pepper and red cayenne pepper in an apple cider vinegar base. Shotgun Pete’s descriptively named Hellfire Hot Sauce includes 2 pounds of fresh habanero peppers per gallon batch, and if that’s not hot enough, there are always commercial bottled hot sauces and sliced jalapeños available. If you’re lucky, you might visit on a day when Peters makes one of his experimental hot sauces, such as “Notify Next of Kin” that includes 30 Trinidad Scorpion peppers. (He’s only tried this one once!) Shotgun Pete’s sauces are available with any of the meats served, which range in price from $8 sandwiches to a $24 full slab of ribs. Pete’s smokes its meat out back each day, and the restaurant sometimes may close early for bad weather or if it runs out of meat. Check its Facebook page for updates.
Shotgun Pete’s BBQ Shack
28 N. Ninth St.
When Irish Eyes Water
Yes, The Wolf’s Head Tavern — an Irish pub that opened last September — will always offer various combinations of fish, potatoes and cabbage on the menu, but in the hands of chef Trey Quinlan, these ingredients are far from boring. A small, rotating menu of dishes means you’re likely to find specials like The Lone Wolf, a barbecue corned beef sandwich with fried jalapeños, cheddar cheese, hot mess relish and horseradish sauce on house-made sourdough bread. Quinlan also offers An Alternative Chicken Melt that features fresh tomatoes, roasted chicken and mozzarella on house-made rye with a special horseradish aioli to add that special spark. Paddy’s Poppers are a menu standard: sliced and gutted jalapeños stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon. And to balance the menu’s heat, there’s always Guinness on tap and a full bar to cool your palate. Menu items at Wolf’s Head are usually in the $5 to $12 range.
The Wolf’s Head Tavern
201 N. 10th St.
An Unusual Digestif
Finished off that spicy meal and still craving more? Head over to Bleu Restaurant for a nightcap cocktail, Cat on a Hot Gin Roof. Bartender and manager Aaron Brown says that, like many of his signature drinks, he conceived of the cocktail’s name first, then worked backward to discover the ingredients. His style of trial and error resulted in a popular drink for the truly adventurous.
To make the drink, Brown makes his own sour mix and a jalapeño and cilantro simple syrup. For the spirits, he adds an oaked Chardonnay and gin. Finally, he garnishes the drink with a skewered pepperoncini — an ingredient he just happened to have on hand when he concocted the original drink — but one that adds a pleasingly palatable pepper flare.
811 E. Walnut St.
OFF THE CHARTS
Scoville Scale Ranks Pepper’s Punch
BY KATHERINE FORAN
Whether measuring zing, sting or a five-alarm fire, the Scoville Scale is the go-to guide for ranking a pepper’s punch. Capsaicin (cap-SAY-sin), the molecule that gives peppers their heat, signals “fire!” to the same nerve endings in our mouths that sound the alarm when the coffee’s too hot. Developed in 1912 by American chemist Wilbur Scoville, the scale ranks the amount of capsaicin in known chili varieties. Scoville Heat Units (SHU) measure how much sugar syrup it takes to neutralize the heat in a single drop of pepper extract. A bell pepper’s tang registers zip, while ghost pepper extract has to be diluted more than a million times to douse its flames. If you’re debating whether your taste buds are ready for the next level of burn, consider this: Our body responds to capsaicin by releasing endorphins. The hotter the peppers, the happier you might be. And though drinking milk beats water for quenching the pain, some experts swear beer, tequila and chocolate may work even better.
Variety & Scoville Heat Units (SHU)
Pure Capsaicin = 16,000,000 SHU
*HP56 Death Strain = 3,000,000 SHU
Carolina Reaper = 2,200,000 SHU
Trinidad Scorpion “Butch T” = 1,463,700 SHU
Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) = 1,041,427 SHU
Habanero = 100,000–350,000 SHU
Scotch Bonnet = 100,000–325,000 SHU
Pequin = 75,000 SHU
Cayenne = 30,000–50,000 SHU
del Arbol = 15,000–30,000 SHU
Serrano = 5,000–23,000 SHU
Chipotle, Hot Wax = 5,000–10,000 SHU
Jalapeño = 2,500–8,000 SHU
Ancho, Pasilla = 1,000–2,000 SHU
Anaheim = 500–2,500 SHU
Pimento = 100–500 SHU
Bell Pepper = 0
*new variety, still in development
Note: This is a sample of Scoville Scale rankings.
TOO HOT TO HANDLE
How To Avoid The Burn
BY KATHERINE FORAN
What’s banh mi without freshly diced jalapeños? Or roasted pork chili verde without a poblano or two? Peppers add flavorful oomph to all kinds of dishes. To dial down the heat, remove and discard seeds and inner membranes, the hottest parts of the pepper. Remember that the bigger the pepper variety, typically, the milder its taste.
Chili oil that’s released during prep work can irritate skin, eyes, mouth and throat. These tips may help ease the burn:
- Do NOT touch your face while handling chilies.
- Wear vinyl or latex gloves if your skin is really sensitive or if you’re preparing lots of chilies.
- Wash hands thoroughly in warm (though some swear by cool) soapy water after handling. Dish soap is best.
- Wash all prep areas and utensils thoroughly in warm soapy water to remove chili residue.
- Try rubbing alcohol, even a splash of vodka, to dissolve the chili oil.
- Apply a baking soda paste to your hands and rinse after it dries.
- While working, occasionally dip fingers into a solution of 5 parts water to 1 part bleach.
- Only roast chilies in well-ventilated areas; run the exhaust fan on high if toasting chilies on the stove.
Chilies’ Tantalizing Tingle Rules
BY KATHERINE FORAN
Did you know that for some people chilies are a competitive sport as they raise and taste peppers that rank ever hotter on the Scoville Scale? If you’re hooked on heat, stroll over to the Columbia Farmers Market where you’ll find Jeff Cook selling Zeejay’s Dynamite Dust as a sideline to his grass-fed beef operation. Or head out to the University of Missouri’s Bradford Research Center where Director of Field Operations Tim Reinbott and research specialist Kimberly Griffin will introduce you to more than 100 pepper varietals.
The Bradford staff is already plotting new surprises for this year’s 12th Annual Tomato and Salsa Festival on Sept. 1, where chilies now get a tent all their own. Ignore the yellow police caution tape over the entrance at your own peril, Reinbott warns. Griffin will start seeding this month, carefully tending this year’s plants until they are ready for harvest. Peppers are often the star attraction with visiting school groups and campers. Reinbott chuckles as he recalls the students who snuck a bite of ghost pepper. Their flushed cheeks and tears had nothing to do with guilt.
Back at the Columbia Farmers Market, Cook says his 11-year-old understands the attraction: “If it doesn’t make him sweat, it’s not hot enough.”
Cook’s Dynamite Dust — a volcanic mix of Naga Vipers, Scotch Bonnets, Trinidad Scorpions and Carolina Reaper — is a daring flavor enhancer the family enjoys sprinkled on homemade pizza or mixed into chicken burritos.
If your competitive tastes run tamer, Cook has started experimenting with bonchi — a fusion of bonsai, the Japanese art of miniaturized ornamental planting, using chili pepper plants — “a nice way to combine plants, food and art all in one,” he says, without burning your tongue.
Local Products Add Kick To Your Cuisine
BY AUDRA JENKINS
Thinking about adding some heat in your home cooking? Try these Show-Me State products.
Boone Olive Oil Co. in downtown Columbia offers more than 45 selections of quality extra-virgin olive oils and vinegars, some of them with an extra spicy bite. Baklouti Green Chili and Cayenne Chili are fused extra-virgin olive oils, meaning the chilies are crushed and pressed along with the olives for a rich, flavorful (and hot!) result. Sourced from Tunisia, they are excellent additions to North African dishes such as couscous and roasted lamb. Other popular fused olive oils are Harissa and Chipotle with a unique smoky flavor. Owner Munir Mohammad and staff are happy to provide recipes and pairing suggestions. All products are available for sampling and bottled fresh in-store starting at $14. Sampler packs are also available.
Boone Olive Oil Co.
20 S. Ninth St.
To spice up anything from barbecue sauce to glazed ham or meatloaf, pick up a jar of Hades Honey Habanero Preserves, made in Jefferson City. Stir a spoonful into marinara sauce, salad dressing, roasted vegetables — anything that could use a sweet hot kick. Chef Tommy Stewart provides recipes on the Hades Honey website. Look for Hades Honey at Schnucks and Lucky’s in Columbia.
Paul Spanenberg of PT Gardens in Springfield has been growing hot peppers for 10 years, and he’s created a line of hot spice options for home cooks. A hot pepper infused salt called Dragon’s Breath combines sea salt with bird’s eye pepper. A half-strength version (Dragon’s Breath, Jr.) and a habanero version (Dragon’s Breath Extreme) are also available. A mix called Bacon Bonfire includes sea salt, pasture-raised bacon and organic dried habaneros. PT Gardens currently sells its products at stores in Springfield, local farmers markets and on their website.
Beer Pairings For Spicy Foods
BY JON WHITAKER
We craft beer folks are always trying to persuade people that beer can be a good pairing option when thinking about what to drink with your meal. This is readily apparent when dealing with spicy fare.
Let’s start with a question: Do you like the spicy notes highlighted in the dish you just ordered or prepared? If the answer is “yes,” then you’ll want to find a brew with a fair amount of hops. Hoppy beers — Bur Oak’s Big Tree IPA or Logboat’s Snapper IPA, for example — complement the heat in chili-laden dishes, whether traditional Sriracha sauces found in Asian cuisines or the jalapeños and buffalo sauce in standard American bar fare.
Keep in mind the citrus notes you find in Asian and Mexican cuisine. A good American IPA will enhance those qualities. A lot of IPAs can do the trick; brews such as Boulevard’s The Calling IPA have notable citrus characteristics that will highlight those clean, fresh flavors.
If you’re anxious to tone down the heat, head to the maltier end of the spectrum. Beers with more malt do a great job of extinguishing the chili pepper-induced flames that food masochists like me enjoy. If you love the flavor of spicy tacos or curries but don’t want to numb your palate, savor a rich brown ale. Good options are Bur Oak’s Boone County Brown Ale or Civil Life’s Brown Ale (available in draft only). A good brown will help keep your guests’ taste buds intact as they sample that plate of super spicy wings while watching the game. Spicy dishes are often heavy on the salt, too, and a good brown ale adds an old-fashioned “sweet-salty” contrast that some people really love.
White Wines Help Snuff The Flames
BY KATHY CASTEEL
Conventional wisdom calls for pairing wines and foods from the same region. But when serving spicy cuisine, conventional wisdom goes out the window. Look to the cool climes of Germany and other northern locales to calm your palate when dining on incendiary fare.
Sweet, fruity white wines are the best complement to spicy dishes; their residual sugars provide a balance to the food’s heat and intense flavors. Avoid oaked, tannic or high-alcohol styles, which can mask flavors or even irritate your mouth. Always serve wine cold when pairing with spicy foods.
A sweet or off-dry Riesling tamps down the heat of chili spice and is the go-to for fiery dishes; it harmonizes well with the sweeter flavors in Asian sweet-and-sour or coconut milk sauces. The intense fruit and spicy perfume of Gewürztraminer brings out complex flavors while quenching the burn.
Prefer to drink local? A Missouri Traminette or sweet Vignoles makes an excellent companion for spice aficionados.
Piquant Mexican food pairs best with sparkling wine. A sweet sparkler such as Moscato d’Asticomplements tasty sauces. The bubbles add a respite for the tongue and accent the various layers of flavor. Sparkling rosés and blush wines are also good options.
Red wine lovers may want to try low-alcohol reds such as Lambrusco and fruity Beaujolais with Indian cuisine. The simple fruitful qualities of these soft, low-tannin wines offer contrast to complexity.
Fruit never fails to complement spice. A good sangria — red or white — is always a treat for the taste buds, no matter the cuisine or level of heat.