WHAT IS IT?
Bird’s Eye is a medium-to-high heat pepper, from 50,000-300,000 SHU. Some variants, across Southeast Asia, are cross-bred and may be yellow, purple, or black. The African Bird’s Eye (ABE) is red, about mid-scale, at 175,000 SHU. If you want the convenience, and consistency, of heat, with a trace of fruit, try Bird’s Eye chili powder.
Bird’s Eye is often described as “fruity.” The powder, however, compared to other peppers that we use, is much lighter in the “fruity” aspect, than the fresh. It mostly brings on the heat.
This is a role player (heat) spice, not a rock-star.
This powder, being sold by Spice Jungle, sources from India, but the chiles are widely grown. The tiny Bird’s Eye Chili is a transplant of a South American pepper. There is some argument as to where it first landed, but it is believed to be somewhere in Southeast Asia.
From there, they went to Africa, via trading routes. Thai bird chili is used extensively in Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese cuisine. It’s grown commercially, for both domestic use and export, in Thailand, India, and Indonesia.
The African Bird’s Eye (ABE) is a major export. Malawi is the biggest producer of the Bird’s Eye (Piri Piri) chiles in Africa, but South Africa, Zambia, Mozambique, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, and Zimbabwe all are major producers.
- Thai chile powder;
- Nasi Goering – Spicy Indonesian fried rice;
- Sambal Oelek – An Indonesian sauce with chili peppers, and varying ingredients like shrimp paste, garlic, ginger, shallot, scallion, palm sugar, and lime juice;
- rik nam pla (chili fish sauce), a popular Thai condiment.
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- Bird’s Eye Birdseye – Ghee, salt, and bird’s eye chili on birdseye frozen stirfry vegetables;
- The heat in my Spicy Cashew-Culantro Noodles
- Thai Shepherd’s Pie – A spicy chicken, peanut and vegetable filling in a sweet chili sauce, topped with a mashed potato crust.
- Korean Swedish Pancake – Seoul meets Stockholm with this ultra-thin Swedish pancake, filled with a traditional buchimgae-style with bay shrimp, and wok-fried thinly sliced scallions, carrots, and celery with a hint of gochugaru pepper flakes.
The chili varieties found in Southeast Asia today were brought by the Spanish and Portuguese colonists and traders somewhere between the 15 and 17th centuries, from the Americas. Chiles, highly adaptive, morphed into varietals that fit the climate, and soil conditions. Thailand, where the Bird’s Eye is almost revered for its flavor, and heat, saw its arrival during the early Ayutthaya period, in the 15th Century. It took nearly another century to find its way into the common cuisine.
I’m still a big believer in “grind your own,” especially for a pepper like this, as it retains the full potency of the chili’s essential oils. You get the max, every time that you mill the bit that you need. You control how coarse, or fine, that you need, for any particular recipe. Freshly ground, it will lean to the high side of the scale. The powder will lose some punch as it sits, so buy less, more frequently, to get the full impact.
The ground bird’s eye powder can become airborne very quickly. It will burn all mucus membranes in the eyes, nose. Saline spray, in the nose, and a very mild salt wash can help ease pain in the eyes.
Remember that if you add the chili while cooking, the oils in the foods will absorb it, and accelerate it. Add last if you want to contain the heat. Also remember that refrigerating, canning, bottling, or other preservation systems can accelerate the heat. Use sparingly until you’ve tested these situations.
- Thai Chilli
- Bird eye
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