’Facing Heaven’ Chile Substitution

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Dear Dave,

You recommend piquin chilies as a substitite for the Sichuan "facing-heaven" chilies that people who’ve read Fuchsia Dunlop’s excellent Sichuan cookbook Land of Plenty frequently seek.  However, based on her description of the "facing heaven" varietypopular in Sichuan Province, the piquin is not a good choice. She specifically says that authentic "facing heaven chilies" (chao tian jiao) are not especially hot and that, under no circumstances, are Thai bird chilies to be substituted. Since piquins and Thai bird chilies are either the same thing or essentially the same fiery hot Scoville rating at the least, they can’t possibly really reflect the properties of the "facing heaven" variety she’s talking about. Additionally, I’ve been to China and had a variety that must have been what she was talking about because it looks just like her description and, while still hot, were nowhere near as hot as the Thai bird or piquin varieties. They had a very nice balance of heat and flavor. So, based on this new info, can you make a more suitable recommendation? Also, do you know why true "facing heaven" chilies are not available in the U.S.? Is there some sort of embargo due to disease or is Sichuan just loath to let any of them be exported so that they cankeep their happy secret? Thank you,


Hello Eric:

You seem to be correct, although she does describe them as "moderately hot." From her description and the photo you sent, Mexican cascabel would probably be the best substitution, although they can be hard to find. Like the "facing heaven" chiles, which she describes as "sun-dried," the cascabels are dried and have about the same shape. The facing heaven chiles are probably C. annuum, as most frutescens look like tabasco, with very little pod variation in that species. It is difficult to make subsititution recommendations when I’ve never seen or tasted "facing heaven" chiles. It would have been helpful for her to have included at least a black and white shot of them.

As for why they are not available here, there probably is not a large enough crop for profitable export. Thanks for your information.



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