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How to Put Out a Chilli Fire in Your Mouth

Cajun Chicken in a Paper Bag

It’s enough to make even the toughest of us panic…

You’ve just taken a big bite. You didn’t think it was going to be too hot. And then the burning feeling starts to build. And build. And build.

You brace yourself for the onslaught…

Ouch!

Or as Fergal would say… ‘Ouchies!’

I still remember my worst chilli burn like it was yesterday…

I was working in my first ‘real job’ as a young food scientist in the Kellogg Australia product development department and was out to dinner with a big group of friends. It was Friday night. We’d been at the pub for a few hours before heading in search of a good curry.

Squeezed around the table, it was noisy and the wine was flowing. Happy days.

Until the food came out.

I was starving and reached for what I thought was a lone green bean on top of one of the curries. I took a bite.

It definitely wasn’t a harmless green bean. My world closed in on the inferno in my mouth.

Luckily I knew what to do. (Food science to the rescue!)

And no I didn’t reach for the water. Or another slug of vino.

I knew better.

So I grabbed the raita, creamy yoghurt flecked with cucumber chunks.

I held the mixture in my mouth, swirling it around before swallowing and starting with more life-saving yoghurt.

Thankfully things calmed down in my mouth. And dinner went on.

Although I didn’t enjoy it because I couldn’t get over the fact that I’d been so stupid. When do Indian restaurants ever use a ‘lone green bean’ to garnish their beef vindaloo? It’s always a chilli. How could I be so foolish?

So why did the yoghurt work?

Simple chemistry.

The component of chillies which makes them hot is called capsaicin and it’s only soluble in fats and oils. While water and wine may give momentary relief from the temperature difference, the capsaicin doesn’t dissolve and stays in your mouth causing all the pain.

Full fat yoghurt on the other hand, has enough oil to dissolve the culprit and move it on. Problem solved.

Of course it doesn’t have to be yoghurt.

Fergal recently had is own chilli experience when he rubbed his fingers on my chilli-infested chopping board and popped said fingers in his mouth. Luckily a big glass of cold milk sorted him out straight away.

But basically anything with some oil will work. Coconut milk or coconut yoghurt or even a mouthful of a creamy mild curry will do the trick.

What about you?

Ever had a ‘green bean’ chilli moment of your own? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

——-
Cajun Chicken in a Paper Bag-2

Cajun Chicken in a Paper Bag

There’s something really magical about dusting cooked food in a spice mix just before eating. Not only do you get the beautiful spiced flavours, it also coats the chicken to give a slightly crunchy crust. So good and so little effort!

enough for: 2
takes: 15 minutes

450g (1lb) chicken thigh or breast fillets
3-4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 large cabbage
3 green onions (optional)
3-4 teaspoons cajun spice

1. Chop chicken in to bite size strips. Heat a frying pan on a medium high heat.

2. Rub chicken with a little oil and salt. Cook chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side or until browned on the outside and just cooked through.

3. While the chicken is cooking, slice cabbage as finely as possible and toss in a bowl with the mayo and green onion (if using). Season with salt and pepper.

4. Divide cooked chicken between 2 plates and serve each person with a paper bag. Serve cajun spice in the middle of the table so each person can toss it in with their chicken.

5. Serve cabbage salad in the middle of the table.

6. Get each person to pop their chicken in their paper bag and add their share of the spice mix. Shake bag and eat spiced chicken with the salad.

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Video Version of the Recipe.

Variations

no cabbage – serve spiced chicken with baby spinach or other salad greens on the side.

vegetarian – replace chicken with sliced halloumi or poached eggs. For the eggs, just serve on a plate and sprinkle with the spice (instead of tossing in the bag).

egg-free – use a vegan mayo for the salad dressing. Or replace with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

vegan – follow the egg-free suggestions and replace chicken with 1-2 drained cans of chickpeas. Warm in a little oil in a pan then serve with a paper bag and the spice as per the chicken.

no cajun spice – try another spice blend like moroccan, ras el hanout, pirri pirri or just use a little salt, black pepper and mild chilli powder (you won’t need as much as the cajun blend).

different meat – feel free to use chicken breast fillets, pork fillet or some plain pork sausages.

hot! – add a little chilli powder to your spice mix.

Big love,
Jules x

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{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Jessica 29 September, 2015, 9:22 pm

    The recipe looks amazing and your tip will come in handy. I’m not a fan of chilli, but my hubby is. The last time he cooked he accidentally pot too much and when I took a bite I was in agony. The first thing I thought of is bread, but it doesn’t do much. Now I’ll know.

  • Dawn 30 September, 2015, 12:24 am

    In south Texas we are taught very young. My dad introduced me to a jalapeño when I was 4. We use bread and salt to chill the burn. I don’t think yogurt or Indian food made it to Texas till the late 80s, and only in the cosmopolitan areas ? I love your story!

  • Susan 30 September, 2015, 12:34 am

    While chopping a hot pepper, I thoughtlessly touched my eye. I was able to reduce the burning by pouring cream over my eyeball, but it remained quite uncomfortable and distracting. Finally I realized that my contact lens had been compromised. I removed the lens and all was well!

  • Mary 30 September, 2015, 12:37 am

    At a big Company special dinner, seated BESIDE one of the big wigs. The lovely looking plated food arrived. Starving, I forked some “pink
    salmon” from the no so dainty “mound” ready to ENJOY!! Yikes!! Pink tinted HORSERADISH!!
    Horrid experience!! Gag, gag!! To spit OUT into the serviettes??
    What to DO, quickly!!?? I swallowed!! Have never forgotten all these years later and never have used that ingredient again, though
    my man loves it on occasion. :):):) MaryTB

  • Carolyn 30 September, 2015, 12:47 am

    I had been living in India a couple of months, and I had to heavily rely on curd (yogurt) to tame the spiciness in the curries and biryanis. One particular lunch, I saw what appeared to be a green been in my curry, but I also new that chillies could sneakily look like green beans. So I logically went through why it looked like a green bean or a chili and came to the conclusion that it was indeed a green bean. I decided I was going to enjoy that single green bean, so I popped the ENTIRE thing in my mouth. The first two chews, I thought, “This does not taste like a green bean. It doesn’t taste like much of anything.” And then WHOOSH my mouth was on fire! My mouth was so on fire that even the curd seemed to make it hotter. It was indeed a painful experience, one that I wondered if I was going to survive, but my spice tolerance went WAY UP after that ordeal. Only a few times in the following years when a dish was extremely spicy did I have to have use curd. So anytime a new person had trouble with the spiciness of the food, I suggested eating a whole chili. I don’t think anyone felt it was a smart thing to do though.

  • Gina 30 September, 2015, 1:47 am

    I went with a group from work to lunch at a Japanese restaurant. We all got our meals in bento boxes all nicely arranged with a ball of decorative avocado or so I thought. I love avocado so I picked it up with my chopsticks and popped the whole thing into my mouth. Fortunately for me one of my coworkers saw what I had done and said in a horrified voice ‘noooo!’ So I popped it out again. It was wasabi and only rested on my tongue for a second or two leaving just a slight tingle. I wonder why I thought a ball of avocado would accompany a Japanese meal. I read that milky and sweet would calm the fire. Milky and sweet? Ice cream! I’ve seen a bowl of raita on the table when curry was served but never a bowl of ice cream.

  • Angela 30 September, 2015, 2:46 am

    My unforgettable chile moment happened from peeling a lot of roasted green chiles without protective gloves. Bad idea. My hands were on fire and nothing could stop the pain, certainly not cold water. The inspiration came to grab a banana and mash it with my fingers. I don’t know why it worked but it worked. Pain gone instantly.

  • Dee Fraser 30 September, 2015, 5:24 am

    My green bean chili moment was in the canteen at work in Bolivia, a rogue green chili impersonating a bean on my burger. I chomped down on it and Yowza! My co-workers rushed to the rescue with sweet tea and sugar cubes, and that really worked. So whenever I take a bite now of something that turns out unexpectedly hot, I pop a sugar cube in my mouth and suck on that. Instant relief!

  • Avalon 30 September, 2015, 5:31 am

    I had sliced a habanero into my salad for lunch one day. I had washed my hands well, eaten my lunch and was on my way back to work, and while sitting at a red light I blew my nose. OMG!!! I thought I was going to lose my nose! An ambulance happened to be driving toward me in the other lane and I almost jumped out of my car to flag them down!! If I had had some yogurt I definitely would have snorted some! Hahahaha!

  • Susan 30 September, 2015, 7:08 am

    The hot chili event I remember vividly was when my husband and I stopped at a restaurant called Chuy’s in the small town of Van Horn in far west Texas. My husband told me that the chiles rellenos were really good, so I ordered them. The chilies were so [unexpectedly] hot that year that I actually couldn’t finish my dinner. Probably the first time in my life that I couldn’t finish a meal… And I didn’t have the knowledge you have or anything to put the fire out with beyond some XX amber beer. I’ll remember the yogurt trick and hope I never need it.

  • Daryle in VT 30 September, 2015, 7:40 am

    I used to be a professional bartender. In Vermont, a licensed bar had to serve “food”, which could be pickled sausages or eggs. Both items had small, pointy peppers floating. They were too hot to eat for the average gringo. One of my customers would buy a sausage and ask for a few of peppers with it … and eat them slowly, savoring each bite. I finally asked how he did it. “I was born in Mexico. My mama ate peppers before I was born. I’ve been eating them ever since.”
    I guess you just get used to them!

  • Mary Ann 30 September, 2015, 3:35 pm

    The worst I did was slice jalapenos without gloves one day. I washed my hands and continued on with my day. That night when I took my contacts out I burned the crap out of my eyes!

  • Bronwyn 30 September, 2015, 6:09 pm

    I was in Laos earlier in the year at a restaurant eating some type of traditional sausage. My boyfriend at the time was Thai, and had been living in Laos for 6 months and failed to tell me that they hide entire chillies inside the sausages, which are bite sized. Yep, popped a whole one in my mouth and chewed with relish until the chilli burn, and my (rather stupid) reaction was to swallow it so it burned the whole way down…nothing I did could fix it. Not even the milky tea I was drinking. Didn’t do that again!

  • Rhiannon 1 October, 2015, 2:02 am

    The indians use lassa, I think it is called. Anyway, it is a mango and milk smoothie, and it works!!

  • Anita Nessin 1 October, 2015, 4:46 am

    My second husband was east Indian, and in addition to the yogurt or buttermilk, he suggested plain rice to counteract the burn of spices.
    By the way, you had selected me as commentator of the week a little while ago, and your book just arrived today. I’m looking through it as my new countertop is being installed. Everything looks so fresh and yummy. I can’t wait to try the recipes as soon as I get my kitchen back in working order. Love your recipes.

  • John Fawkes 1 October, 2015, 3:43 pm

    I don’t have a great spicy food story, but a friend of mine once blinded himself for about 20 minutes when he was making homemade salsa, his eyes teared up, and without thinking he rubbed his eyes and got jabanero pepper in them.

  • Magdalen Bray 1 October, 2015, 8:12 pm

    “Fat free” yogurt is useless for counteracting chillies. Buttered bread works well though. I made the mistake of flossing my teeth after I’d chopped up some chillies. Clever eh?

  • Pam 3 October, 2015, 4:21 am

    Chinese restaurant … small red chili … ‘nuf said!

  • Laura Bonser 9 October, 2015, 2:06 pm

    Your story totally cracked me up. My “green bean” moment: I was having sushi for the first time in a mall sushi place. Once u got to my table I noticed a piece of “avocado” had fallen out of my roll. I picked it up, and popped it into my mouth. Except it wasn’t avocado. It was wasabi. It took quite a while for me to recover, and I’ve of course, never forgotten my first sushi.

  • Marie 10 October, 2015, 11:10 pm

    I wonder if a bite of coconut oil would work? If you put oregano oil in your mouth it burns much. But a few drops in a spoon of coconut oil is very palatable.

    • jules 19 October, 2015, 2:14 pm

      Coconut oil would definiely do the same trick Marie :)

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