Hot stuff: Mark Hix celebrates the spicy delights of the chilli pepper


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Believe it or not, there's a wonderful chilli farm just along the coast from the Fish House in Dorset. Michael and Joy Michaud's business, Peppers by Post (, sells a great variety of chilli pepper seeds, plug plants and the peppers themselves. The Dorset naga, one of the hottest chillies in the world, has helped to build the company's fiery reputation. Although not native to the UK, chilli peppers are one of those ingredients that are irresistible to those who like to give their food a bit of a kick.

Bacon collar steak with greengage and chilli

Serves 4

I remember as a kid my grandmother always used to buy collar of bacon, probably because it was cheap. Until a year or so ago I had almost forgotten about bacon collar and have recently started using it again, as it has such a great flavour and just the right amount of fat integrated into the meat to keep it nice and moist during cooking.

A good butcher should be able to get you this cut if you give him a bit of notice; if not, ask him to cut it from the loin where the back bacon comes from.

4 bacon collar steaks weighing about 160-180g each
Vegetable or corn oil for brushing
2 large shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 medium red chilli, finely chopped
1tbsp rapeseed oil
1tbsp cider vinegar
tbsp granulated sugar
16 greengages, halved and stoned
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently cook the shallots and chilli in the rapeseed oil for 2 minutes, add the vinegar, sugar and a tablespoon of water. Simmer for a minute, stir in the greengages, season, remove from the heat and cover with a lid. Leave to stand for 30 minutes giving an occasional stir.

Heat a ribbed griddle pan or heavy frying pan on the stove. Brush the steaks with oil and season with a little pepper. Cook on the griddle for 4-5 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness, keeping them nice and pink. Serve with the greengage sauce on the plate or separately.

Candied chilli grapefruit

Serves 8-10

This started off as a bit of an experiment when I stayed over at Alice Temperley's house one weekend and her husband Lars had just finished squeezing grapefruits for breakfast. The skins almost went in the bin but I rescued them and chopped them up and produced the prototype version of this, as Lars is a chilli freak. The grapefruit quantities are approximate so if you have a couple extra, just use them and add a little more water to cover.

The skins from about 4 grapefruits
500g preserving or granulated sugar
2-3tsp dried chilli flakes

To serve

About 200g granulated sugar for coating

Quarter the grapefruit halves if you have used them for juicing and cut away any flesh that is left and discard it, so you are left with just the skin and pith. Cut into long strips about cm wide and put them in a saucepan. Cover with water and bring to the boil and drain. Do this once more, then put them back in the saucepan with the preserving sugar and chilli and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer on a medium heat for about 40 minutes, stirring every so often until the syrup is thick. Drain in a colander over a bowl for about 30 minutes, stirring the grapefruit so that all of the syrup has drained off. Save the syrup for your next batch or as a savoury sweet syrup for pancakes.

Lay the pieces of grapefruit on a cake rack and leave to dry out at room temperature for 3-4 days, then roll them in the granulated sugar and store in an airtight container.

Chilli and corn relish

Serves 8-10

I remember eating hamburgers from a takeaway on the Weymouth seafront when I was a student and the sweetcorn relish stuck in my mind. It came from a huge catering jar but there was something about it that gave the hamburger a real lift. Here's a version that you can try at home.

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 medium red chilli, finely chopped
a red pepper, seeded, halved and finely chopped
1tbsp vegetable or rapeseed oil
1tbsp cider vinegar
1tbsp granulated sugar
500ml vegetable stock
The kernels from 3 cooked corn on the cob
1tbsp cornflour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently cook the onion, chilli and red pepper in the rapeseed oil for 4-5 minutes until soft, add the vinegar and sugar and simmer for a couple of minutes, then add the stock and sweetcorn and bring to the boil. Dilute the cornflour in a little water and stir into the relish. Simmer gently for 15 minutes then take out and blend about one-tenth of the relish and return it to the pan, simmer for another 5 minutes, then leave to cool. Serve with a burger.

Shin of beef with chilli and chocolate

Serves 4

This recipe has a little bit of a Mexican influence in the sense that it combines savoury flavours with chocolate. You should try if possible to use chocolate here with the highest possible cocoa content – 100 per cent if possible, such as Willie Harcourt-Cooze's 100 per cent Venezuelan Black.

I was recently sent some great shin of beef steaks from Aubrey Allen ( who will deliver directly to your doorstep and this cut works perfectly in a dish like this.

4 x 200-220g pieces of braising beef like shin or feather blade
1 glass of good red wine
Vegetable oil for frying
30g butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 medium chillies, finely chopped
1 tbsp plain flour
1tsp tomato purée
1 ltrs beef stock (a cube will do)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50g 100 per cent chocolate, grated
2 red chillies, sliced
1tbsp chopped parsley
1tbsp olive oil

Put the pieces of beef into a stainless steel bowl (not aluminum) or similar with the red wine. Cover with clingfilm and marinade in the fridge overnight.

Drain the meat in a colander, reserving the marinade, and dry the pieces on some kitchen paper. Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan, lightly flour the meat with tbsp of the flour, season with salt and pepper and fry the meat on a high heat until nicely browned.

Heat the butter in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan and gently fry the onions, garlic and chilli for a few minutes until soft. Add the rest of the flour and tomato purée and stir over a low heat for a minute.

Slowly add the marinade, stirring constantly to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil and simmer until it has reduced by half, then gradually add the beef stock to avoid lumps forming, bring to a simmer then add the pieces of beef.

Cover with a lid and simmer gently for about 2 hours or until the meat is tender. It's difficult to put an exact time on braised meats, sometimes an extra half an hour may be required depending on the meat itself. The best way to check is by actually tasting it.

Once the meat is cooked the sauce should have thickened to a gravy like consistency. If not, dilute a little cornflour in some water and stir into the sauce and simmer for a few minutes. Add the chocolate and simmer for a couple more minutes.

To serve, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and quickly toss the chilli and parsley then scatter over the beef.