If you know anything about Indian food, you know that the vindaloo is the hottest curry in the world, right? Wrong. The vindaloo comes in close second to the phaal, which is the best way to burn your mouth off in five seconds or less. “So, Kathryn,” you ask, “why on earth did you leave all the spicy stuff ’til the end of the challenge? The Scotch bonnet, the rose harissa, the phaal?” In short, because I’m a moron. And apparently I enjoy torturing myself just hours before my birthday.
I had a gay old time collecting the ingredients for this recipe. Chili powder? Check. Fresh chilies? Check. Dried chilies? Check. The one thing I didn’t understand about this recipe, though, is that it didn’t specify what kind of chilies to use. How can it be the hottest curry ever if you use, for example, banana peppers? I ended up buying the cheapest chilies I could find, which were fresh serranos and dried arbol chilies.
Three full serrano chilis, one arbol chili, and one tablespoon of chili powder went into a single serving of phaal. I was really not looking forward to cooking this. I had a roommate in college that was addicted to hot sauce. He would cook with it like it was oil, and the spicy fumes would fill the house and act as a sort of tear gas. I would be upstairs in my room with the door closed and he would be downstairs in the kitchen cooking. Suddenly, I would be wheezing, coughing, and crying and I wouldn’t know why. Then, I’d realize to my dismay that Jamie was cooking downstairs. I was scared to death that making the phaal would be similar, but luckily the only thing that filled the house was an amazing aroma.
Soon, the phaal was ready to go, as was a hefty helping of rice. I was more than a little nervous to taste it. I mean, when I ate a tiny piece of the Scotch bonnet pepper a couple of weeks ago, I could barely talk. This meal had four full chilies in it! Upon tasting it, my initial thought was, “oh, this isn’t so bad.” But a few minutes later, I learned that this was the kind of spicy that grows and grows until you can barely feel your lips. I kept eating it, though, because it tasted so damn good! It wasn’t at all like I thought it would be (tasteless and violently spicy); it actually had a great combination of flavors, from the sweet tomatoes to the tender chicken. The garam masala spice mix ended up being the true star of the show and gave the phaal that authentic curry flavor.
I actually managed to eat most of this without suffering too badly. I’ve had Thai curries that were hotter than this, and Thai curries aren’t usually very hot. And the best part is that I have had a horrible cold for the last few days, and the phaal did a pretty rockin’ job at clearing my sinuses.
I think the sole reason why I survived this dish was solely due to the fact that the recipe didn’t call for a specific type of chili peppers. Serranos are hot, but nowhere near as hot as bird’s eye chilies, which are more widely used in Asian cooking. I’m just thankful that I didn’t burn myself to a crisp just in time for my b-day.
P.S. You may have noticed that the challenge ends tomorrow at midnight. You may have also noticed that I only have two items left on the list! I have big plans for tomorrow, and I will without a doubt be finishing the challenge in time, but you may not hear about the final two until a few days after it’s all over. Stay tuned for the grand finale!