Monday, May 17, 2010

The Secret to Ginger Chili Jelly: Incendiary Simple Syrup

I love hot pepper jams, but never found them to be hot enough. Why? Traditional recipes call for 4 cups of peppers and 5 cups of sugar. I have kept a detailed Jam Book since 2002, and no matter how much cayenne I have added or what combination of peppers I have used, the sweetness always whomps the heat.

In April 2010, I had a vision of Ginger-Chili Jelly with a golden glow and a fierce bite, and insight into making it work.

Crank up the sugar.
Three Simply Incendiary Simply Syrups solved the sugar problem: (1) sliced whole fresh ginger, (2) sliced fresh haba┼łero and red fresno chilis, and (3) fiercely hot dried chili flakes from Penzey’s. I cooled and strained each one, and then reboiled and strained the ginger syrup because it was cloudy.

Instead of making a long-day project, I made the syrups ahead and refrigerated them overnight. Armed with syrup, I could reduce jelly making to its essence: boiling. (1) Boil the lids, bands and jars for critical sterilization; (2) boil the syrups, cider vinegar, sugar, and pectin according to the pectin package directions; and (3) boil the jelly-filled jars to seal the deal. If you can boil water, you can do this.

It took two tries to get it right.
With the first (red jam on the left), I was a Jelly-Coward, and added hot peppers, making Ginger-Chili Jam. Good flavor, but the peppers were chewy in an unattractive way, and it wasn’t jelly.

On the second try, I focused jelly recipes calling for sugar and fruit juice. I suspected that even Simply Incendiary Simple Syrups would fail me, so I made CHILI LIQUID to take the place of fruit juice and to bump up the heat. Bingo.

This golden jelly has just the right glow and both a slow and after bite, just what I wanted.

NOTE: This is NOT a primer on preserving. Read and heed the directions on the pectin package and consult comprehensive how-to sites or some excellent books on preserving including:

Linda J. Amendt’s Blue Ribbon Preserves (source of Onion Hot Pepper Relish, my MN State Fair Blue Ribbon 2007 winner).

Mary Anne Dragan’s well preserved: pickles, relishes, jams and chutneys for the new cook (source of Gingered Pear Jam, Red Onion Relish, Butterscotch Peach Jam, and Pear & Ginger Jam, my 2004 Blue Ribbon winner.)

Should you have any notion that making jam or jelly is anything but a calming exercise, you need only read "Jam Anxiety" in Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking. Five pages of her jam anxieties that will calm yours.

DAY 1: Make Simply Incendiary Sugar Syrups

1. GINGER SYRUP. Boil for one minute. Cool and strain. This may be cloudy and require reboiling and straining through a coffee filter.
• ½ pound fresh ginger, cut into 1-inch chunks
• 2 c sugar
• ½ cup water

2. DRIED PEPPER SYRUP. Boil for one minute. Cool and strain through a fine-mesh strainer.
• ¼ cup medium hot crush red peppers
• 1 c sugar
• 1/3 cup water

3. FRESH CHILI SYRUP. Boil for one minute. Cool and strain.
• 4 habanero peppers, sliced
• ½ pound red fresno chilis (or other red, spicy pepper)
• 3 c sugar
• 2/3 cup water

DAY 2: Make the Jelly

4. Sterilization: Wash the jars, lids and rings in hot, soapy water. In a large pot or kettle, boil the jars for at least 10 minutes. Note: STERILIZATION is not optional.

5. Reheat the syrups and strain through a coffee filter. You should have 3 cups of GINGER CHILI SYRUP.

6. CHILI LIQUID. Boil for one minute. Pour into a strainer over a bowl and let the liquid infuse while you prepare to make the jellys. You should have 3 cups of CHILI LIQUID.
• ½ cup red chili flakes
• ½ cup sugar
• 3 c. water

7. You are now ready to prepare the Ginger Chili Jelly according to the pectin package directions.
Prepare the jelly with
• 3 cups CHILI LIQUID (#6)
• 1 cup apple cider vinegar
• 4 cups of sugar.

a. In a large and deep pan, mix the CHILI LIQUID, vinegar and pectin. Bring to a full rolling boil (won’t stop when you stir).
b. Add the GINGER CHILI SYRUP and sugar, bring to a boil. At a full rolling boil, BOIL FOR ONE MINUTE. Remove from heat.
c. Pour into hot jars, seal with lids and bands. Boil for 10 minutes.

Ginger Chili Jelly is a friend to cream cheese, a glaze for grilled meat and fish, a wonderful addition to the end of a stir fry, an astonishing addition to vanilla ice cream, and a messy but yummy addition to popped corn. In the spirit of President Richard Nixon, who famously ate cottage cheese with ketchup, you should know that Ginger Chili Jelly is also a friend to cottage cheese.

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