The White Habanero is rare and famously hard to grow. Too little heat, too much heat, too wet, too dry or suboptimal air circulation and these princesses don’t live. But we’ve nailed it. Be it due to horticultural experience or good vibes on our ranch, the little White Habanero is thriving here. And what punchy princesses they are. White Habaneros are shy and retiring – perhaps the most modest of all chillies: fruits the shape and size of nothing more than 2-inch stretched jelly-beans, White Habaneros hide their incredible taste behind an unassuming linen-white exterior; appearance akin to elegantly smooth polished porcelain. The White Habanero plants even have beautiful little pure-white star-shaped flowers of 5 petals. No one would suspect that waiting quietly inside a White Habanero pepper was enough flavourful firepower to knock granny’s dentures out and make her want to burst into Flamenco with no rational explanation.
White Habaneros, otherwise known as Yucatan White Habaneros, yield an explosive taste. White Habaneros are rated at over 300,000 Scoville Heat Units (see our “Benefits of Peppers” website section for an explanation of all things Scoville, as well as lots of fantastic chilli pepper facts), some White Habanero samples weighing in at a reported 410,000 SHU’s. That’s close to the former world record holder, the Red Savina Habanero; around 100 times hotter than a standard Jalapeno Pepper; and certainly more exhilaratingly fierce than regular orange Habaneros.
The mighty Habanero chilli pepper comes in all shapes and sizes, and tastes. There are red, orange, yellow, brown, white, near-black, and pink varieties. After deliberating for some time on which of the many Habaneros to grow, we opted for the few best-tasting feisty fruits, and the White Habanero was on our prized list.
There is some confusion over the origin of the awesome White Habanero chilli pepper, even conflicting urban myths as growers vie for credit. Some sources say the White Habanero was born in Yucatan in southern Mexico, brought to the rest of the world by the Spaniards. Some say the White Habanero hails from Peru. seedaholic.com lists the White Habanero’s synonyms as both Peruvian and Yucatan White Habanero in their botanical information. Even its family’s Latin name – Capsicum chinense – is all over the place. They’re not from China. The story goes that Nikolaus Josepth vonJacquin, the Dutch botanist who named them in 1776, guessed their history wrong, failing to trace them to Central or South America. But the Dutch made cycling cool, so we forgive him.
What we know is that the White Habanero has a distinctive smoky flavour with citrus under-tones and a floral aroma, while managing – in the nicest way possible with your trousers on – to blow your socks off. After growing for three months on our ranch, White Habaneros are mature, picked, packed into our sauces and ready for you to understand why they are worth our efforts.
For the health benefits of eating our chillies, have a look at our “Benefits of Peppers” section. You’ll be surprised.
As for cooking with Habaneros, they have been adored for centuries in Yucatan and hot Caribbean cuisine, lending spicy kick to so many stews, sauces, marinades. Slightly less gung-ho Europeans and North Americans tend to reserve the Habanero – not fully employing its flexibility – for hot sauces and extra-spicy salsas (the White Habanero makes for a killer salsa). Habaneros are to be found giving their warmth to soups in the more authentic Mexican restaurants.
The White Habanero will fire up a good sweat. Serious tongue-tingling fades after around ten minutes, leaving only that glorious endorphin glow and a stimulated metabolism, for which we bow respectfully to the chilli pepper.
A Caribbean will tell you how to use a White Habanero to rock a hearty Jamaican, Guyanese or Bahamian meal shared with friends (grab one on the street and ask them, they’re friendly) so I won’t, I’ll leave that to you. Think of it as border-dissolving homework. I’ll instead share a recipe for something perhaps less common, a sophisticated American creation. We need one of those considering the existence of Jerry Springer.
As you can see from the ingredients and preparation time below, this is no quick snack. It’s a dish of complex rich and hearty flavours, reserved for a special occasion. It’s a recipe based on one from those serious gastronomes at epicurious.com, but tweaked with advice from a professional chef (alas, not me. I am but the humble salivating messenger). If you close your eyes while you’re eating it, this dish takes you to a mahogany table at a backwater Louisiana hash house, banjo hanging next to the skin of an unfortunate crocodile above the serving hatch, log-fire spitting embers.
Yield: 6 servings
Active time: 45 minutes
Total time: 4 hours
This is a meat-heavy dish, using just about all beings apart from Siberian Tigers. To vegetarians: I apologise. The duck can be replaced by tofu, and the sausages can of course be vegetarian (delicious these days) but then the cooking time must be massively reduced, otherwise you’ll end up with a pan of homogenised goop.
2 lb boneless Moulard duck breast (free range please. Respect those we eat). According to personal tastes, the duck can be replaced by chicken thighs or shrimp).
5 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (around 40 fl oz)
1 (1-lb) breakfast sausage (not links)
1/2 lb kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes
2 large onions, chopped (4 cups)
2 yellow bell peppers, chopped (2 cups)
2 red bell peppers, chopped (2 cups)
4 oz fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 fresh White Habanero, minced or 2 tablespoons of White Habanero sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups long-grain white rice (brown rice is a lot healthier, the taste better or worse than white rice depending on your feelings about more earthy, heavy, nutty flavours)
4 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Put the duck meat, skin sides up, in a large saucepan or pot with the broth. Bring to a boil then immediately reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cover and cook until very tender when stuck with a fork. This usually takes 2 to 3 hours.
While the duck is cooking, crumble the breakfast sausage into another large pot (a heavy bottom helps, as Freddie Mercury would sing) and put over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally until browned, which usually takes about 5 minutes. Add to this pot the kielbasa sausage, half of the black pepper (we’ll add the rest later for a more multi-layered spiciness) and all the red pepper flakes. Stir occasionally. After 5 minutes, spoon off and discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat (some kept for flavour, some ditched for health. Life is about balance. Perhaps I should teach ‘Enlightenment through the philosophy of Duck Purloo’ meditation classes).
Add the onions and bell peppers to the sausages and increase the heat to high. Keep stirring now and then, until the onions have softened – should be about 10 minutes. Then add the mushrooms, stir occasionally until the mushrooms are soft (3 minutes-ish). That’s it for that pot – transfer its sausages and all to a bowl to cool, covered.
Back to the duck pot: take the duck out of the broth and transfer to a plate. When cool enough to handle, take off and discard the skin, and shred the meat with 2 forks.
Degrease the remaining stock (duck fat is tasty, but too much and it’ll give you a greasy meal and a complaining belly) by spooning it away, then put the duck meat back in the pot.
Now add the cooled bowl of sausages and vegetables in with the duck, add the White Habanero chilli pepper, salt and the remaining black pepper. Stir in the rice and bring the liquid to a boil over a high heat, then reduce to a simmer, cover, stir occasionally until the rice is tender and moist but not soggy (about 20 minutes). Remove from the heat and let the food stand, covered, for 15 minutes. Then stir in the parsley, exhale, wipe any sweat from your brow, shout to everyone to come devour the tucker, and prepare for deep groans of gastronomic satisfaction and requests for repeat visits to your house.