Playing with fire

If you have not tried Alton Brown’s recipe for “Firecrackers,” a spicy pickled baby carrot, you should. It’s wonderful.

I’ve made it several times before — although with one alteration. I never seemed to have dried chilies — the slender, hot chilies called for in the recipe — on hand, and so I just doubled up on the red chili flakes.

This time, I decided I wanted to use the dried chilies. Because of Shelbyville’s Latino population, dried chili peppers are available at several of our local stores. I have some big, mild ones in the apartment right now, and I used them in the black bean soup that I made for Souper Bowl Sunday at church.

But, somewhat surprisingly, I could not find any dried peppers at Kroger today. I looked both in the Latino foods aisle and in the produce section. It’s quite possible that they were there and I just didn’t know where to look. I figured I would just stop somewhere else — Food Lion, maybe, which I know has them— on my way home.

Do you remember the point in the original cartoon of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” when the narrator says, “Then he got an idea. An awful idea. The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea!”

I wandered back to the produce section and grabbed a few small habanero peppers.

This batch of carrots may or may not be too hot to share; it remains to be seen. (They have to sit for several days.) I don’t know how much of the heat from the habaneros will be picked up by the pickling liquid and make its way into the carrots. But I’m sure some of it will, just as it does in the original recipe.

Alton’s recipe calls for half a pound of what most people refer to as “baby carrots” (they aren’t; they’re normal carrots which have been cut into that shape for snacking). They come in a one-pound bag, and I wanted to go ahead and make a big jar. So instead of the pint-size spring-top jar Alton recommends, I used a quart Mason jar.

The jar held all but three or four of the baby carrots; I could have crammed them in, but I ate them instead. Once I added the liquid, the carrots shifted and there was plenty of extra room. I knew I’d have too much pickling liquid, so instead of doubling the recipe I just went 1 1/2 times the original. Even so, I had a pint of the liquid left over. I’m saving it; I might use it for salad dressing or a marinade.

You can see one of the peppers in the top right of the jar — it’s the same color as the carrots.

I think I’ve made enough changes to the recipe that I can legally and ethically post my version here. If you want the original, click on the link at the top of the post.


1 pound mini carrots

1 1/2 cups water

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 1/4 cups cider vinegar

1 1/2 t. onion powder

2 t. mustard seeds

2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

3 small habanero peppers, stem ends cut off

Place carrots and habaneros in a one-quart Mason jar. If possible, place the habaneros with cut ends up to avoid air pockets. Bring the other ingredients to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel or enamel; do not use aluminum or cast iron) and boil for four minutes, making sure the sugar is completely dissolved.

Using a canning funnel if available, pour the hot liquid over the carrots to the top of the jar. Rest the lid on top of the jar and allow to cool before screwing on the ring and moving the jar to the refrigerator. Refrigerate for several days to a week to allow flavor to penetrate the carrots.

Although we are using a canning jar, this pickle is not processed and is therefore not shelf-stable. The carrots should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed within a reasonable amount of time. Processing this recipe would, I suspect, take the crunch out of the carrots, which would take away a large part of the appeal. In any case, you’d need a tested and approved recipe if you wanted to process it.