SOME LIKE IT HOTTER
Fiery Adelaide offers all the makings of serious southern discomfort, writes Christine McCabe
THERE’S a curious subculture in the US devoted to the chilli and the consumption of fiery hot sauces and other searing condiments. This same subculture has found root in suburban Adelaide, thanks to the arrival three years ago of Seattle-based tortilla salesman Joel Adams and his specialist store Chile Mojo.
Adams and his partner Morgen Britt run this tiny jewel box of a store on The Parade in leafy Norwood, crammed to the rafters with what is arguably Australia’s largest range of hot sauces (400 and counting), together with authentic Mexican chillis and spices, corn masa and a broad range of prepared meals whipped up by Adams in his tiny kitchen wedged behind the Chile Mojo counter.
Think delicious salsas and black bean salad, chilli Colorado with beef, vegetarian chilli non carne, enchilada sauce, taco beef and corn tortilla soup. And for those of us hankering after the sunny tastes of California (and with fond memories of scouring the shelves of stores such as Trader Joe’s) there’s Monterey Jack cheese and a truly excellent chorizo mix, essential for the Saturday morning breakfast burrito.
As to the spelling of the store’s name, Adams says chile is the commonly accepted version among connoisseurs for the plant and fruit (giving credence to the Aztec name and the first spelling in Roman lettering), while chilli refers to the stew of Texas origin.
Adams and Britt grow a broad variety of chillis in their Adelaide Hills garden (many under glass), but those they tend to cultivate most extensively are the Mexican classics: ancho-poblano, habanero, jalapeno, pasilla-chilaca and various New Mexican varieties (Anaheim, Big Jim and Joe E. Parker).
A friendly organic grower based in Adelaide provides the store with the pods they use in bulk, the green New Mexican and poblano varieties, essential flavours for chilli verde (a New Mexican-style green chilli stew) and chillis reilenos (stuffed and fried chillis).
Stocking up on authentic staples of the Spanish-American larder is all very well, but true chilli-heads visit Mojo in search of seriously hot sauces with a range of insane names, from Great White Shark Predator to Burnin’ Bush (as in George W.) and an entire selection of Elvis condiments (Burning Love and so on). Adams rates his sauces out of 10, beginning with regular tabasco at 3/10 to Blair’s Mega Death at 13/10.
Anything over 10/10 is no longer considered a sauce and can be used only when substantially diluted or in cooking.
Capsaicin is the source of a chilli’s heat and there is a means of measuring it, the Scoville Heat Unit.
In practice, this is the number of times the product must be diluted before heat is no longer detectable, although the testing process is not entirely accurate, Adams says. For the layperson, let’s say a fresh capsicum rates zero SHU; a fresh habanero 100,000 to 350,000 SHU; while the daddy of them all, the dried Indian chilli Naga Morich (or Naga Jolokia), registers a mindblowing 970,000 to more than one million SHU. But this is small potatoes alongside Adams’s locked cabinet of private reserve sauces, so hot as to be unimaginable.
Blair’s Reserve 371 (hailing from, of all places, New Jersey) tips the scales at 16 million SHU.
Adams will sell you 1mg of this pure crystalline capsaicin for $500.
No one uses this in cooking, he says; it’s a collector’s item, as are the other less fiery but still incendiary Blair’s sauces (the 2am registers 875,000 SHU and costs $59.99).
But asbestos-mouthed aficionados are more than happy to tuck into Dave’s Insanity Sauce at a tongue-numbing 250,000 SHU. Adams admits these numbers are hard to digest, especially given the exponential rise at the top end of the scale.
‘‘ I’ve put it into a graph before, but it just looked like an Al Gore summary of the biosphere: nuthin’, nuthin’, somethin’, then whammo,’’ he quips.
For us more moderate chilli fans, Chile Mojo sells a huge range of paraphernalia from chilli seeds and sauces to napkins, tea towels, even chilli-adorned stilettos.
There’s an entire cabinet devoted to Mexican condiments, including one of my favourites, the comparatively mild but very flavoursome Cholula; and regular shoppers can take advantage of a frequent fire card: you burn, you earn. Chile Mojo is happy to ship interstate, with fans frequently calling to order some of Adams’s best sellers: Iguana Radioactive, Pain 100%, Colon Cleaner and the rather more refined Virginia Gentlemen Bourbon Chipotle.
The www.chilemojo.com.au website goes live in about two months, offering online shopping. Until then, interstate customers can email or phone to order. Chile Mojo, 225b The Parade, Norwood, South Australia; (08) 8333 1931; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Out of the frying pan: Joel Adams dry-toasts dried chillis to bring out more complex aromas, left; some of the 400 sauces on offer at Chile Mojo, right