The lovely people at the fantastic Marx Foods in Seattle sent me a bounteous box of various dried chiles with which to experiment. The only proviso was that whatever I did with them must be simultaneously hot and cold. Really cold. As in frozen. As in Fire on Ice.
I love ice cream, especially venturing into new and unusual flavor combinations . . . though not unusual for the sake thereof, please understand. It must not only taste good, but perhaps more important, leave one happier for having experienced it. Besides, it is said that consuming hot, hot flavors during hot, hot weather has a cooling effect. So let’s raise that theory a notch and combine hot, hot with cold, cold. Here’s to the scientific method.
Among the bundles I received were some Tepin chiles. I’d honestly never heard of them, but the notation on the packet describes their heat level as hot, and their flavor as “powerful but brief heat.” A little further research revealed that the small, round peppers are also known as “bird chiles” because they are typically dispersed by birds. I’d love to meet those birds! Given that most molecules which carry flavor are fat-soluble, especially hot flavors, I suspected that these would be ideal chiles to use in ice cream. The frozen fats would layer Tepins’ heat across the palate, but it would dissipate quickly, mingling its memory with a sweet chaser.
I don’t want to over-sweeten the ice cream though, so I’m going to use a combination of coconut milk (unsweetened) with lychees (packed in a sweet syrup, though drained) as the base for the custard. To serve it, I’ll nestle the silken ice cream upon shards of Thai basil granita brightened with lime juice and Thai chiles. A final dusting of the ice cream with finely ground Thai chiles wraps up the entire package.
COCUNUT-LYCHEE ICE CREAM WITH TEPIN CHILES
Makes about 1 quart
1 can unsweetened coconut milk (13.6 ounces)
10 Tepin chiles, crushed in a mortar and pestle
6 yolks from large eggs (freeze the whites for another use)
1/3 cup (about 2.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1 can lychees (15 ounces), chilled and drained, then puréed
13.5 ounces heavy cream
- Pour the coconut milk into a stainless-steel saucepan and stir in the crushed Tepin chiles. The contents of the can may have separated; no matter, simply scrape everything into a saucepan and whisk it together as it warms. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Remove from the heat and place a cover the pan. Allow chiles to steep for 20 minutes.
- While the coconut milk is heating, whisk together the egg yolks in a medium-size stainless mixing bowl. Whisk in the sugar, adding it in a slow and steady stream (set the bowl on a kitchen towel or hot pad to prevent it from spinning around). When the coconut milk is ready, strain it into a measuring cup to remove the chiles (discard them), then temper it into the yolk-sugar mixture by pouring in a slow stream, whisking continuously.
- Rinse out the saucepan in which you heated the coconut milk. Fill it 1/3 full with hot water and place over medium heat on the stove. Set the mixing bowl containing the custard mixture over the saucepan. Whisk it while it cooks to a temperature of 165 degrees.
- When done, remove the bowl from the pan. Purée the drained lychees to a very smooth consistency in a food processor or a mini-chop. Stir them into the custard mixture, followed by the cream. The cold elements will help chill the custard. Set the bowl over an ice water bath to finish chilling it to at least 40 degrees before processing in an ice cream machine.
- To spin the custard, set the frozen cylinder on the machine. You did remember to freeze it last night, right? It needs a good 12 hours in the freezer before it can dependably spin a batch of ice cream. Position the plastic dasher inside the cylinder, then attach the cover. Turn on the machine before you add the custard. My sister once set the dasher, placed the cover, poured in the custard, then turned on the machine. The custard had sat just long enough for the dasher to freeze to the sides of the cylinder, then broke when she turned on the motor. Lesson learned.
- Spin custard until it has nearly doubled in bulk, about 20-25 minutes. When finished, scrape the ice cream into a broad, shallow pan (a 9″ cake pan works well), and press a sheet of plastic wrap directly in contact with the surface. Place in the freezer. A shallow pan will freeze the ice cream more quickly than a deep freezer container.
THAI BASIL GRANITA
Makes about 1 cup
While the ice cream is freezing, prepare the granita and start it freezing also.
6 ounces water
1/3 cup (about 2.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 Thai chile, broken into pieces
1 cup Thai basil leaves
Juice of 1 lime (first remove zest with a Microplane, and set it aside)
- Measure the water and sugar into a small saucepan. Add the pieces of Thai chile. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and cover the pan. Let the chiles steep for 15 minutes.
- Strain the sugar solution into the bowl of a food processor to remove the chiles, which you can discard. Add the Thai basil leaves (they can stand the heat of the syrup a bit better than conventional sweet basil) and purée to a smooth consistency. Stop the machine and scrape the sides if you need to.
- Pour the purée into a stainless bowl and place over an ice water bath to chill. When cold, stir in the lime juice. When the mixture reaches at least 40 degrees, transfer it to a shallow pan; again, a cake pan works well. Set it in the freezer. Set a timer, and every 10 minutes, pull it out and give it a quick, gentle stir. It will begin to form dramatic shards as it freezes.
TO GARNISH AND SERVE!
Set in the freezer the number of bowls you need so that they can chill for about 15 minutes. You don’t want the granita to melt too quickly.
Zest of 1 lime
1 Thai chile
1/4 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
- Clean your coffee grinder by filling it 3/4 full of oatmeal (inexpensive quick-cooking will do just fine). Most instructions suggest using rice to remove traces of coffee. I find that uncooked rice is hard on the blade; oatmeal scours the grinder more gently, and it also contains just enough gentle oils to absorb coffee’s oils and residual flavor. Grind oatmeal to a fine powder, then discard and use a pastry brush to clean out the last traces.
- Break the Thai chile into pieces and add to the grinder. Add the lime zest and salt. Grind to a fine powder. Use the pastry brush to transfer it to a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap to retain moisture and flavors.
- Clean the grinder once again by running two batches of oatmeal through it, brushing it out afterwards. If your morning coffee sets your hair on fire, it’ll be thanks to the caffeine, not any residual chiles.
Remove bowls from the freezer. Place two generous tablespoonfuls of granita in each one. With the back of the spoon, press an indentation in the center of the granita and drop a scoop of ice cream into it. Dust the top of the ice cream with pinches of the Thai chile-lime powder.
Consume immediately. May your endorphins be chilled.