Thai bird’s eye chili, also known as prik ki nu, ranks at 50,000 to 100,000 on the Scoville pungency scale. It’s hotter than cayenne and Serrano, but can’t touch the tongue-scorching Scotch bonnet. But if you going to char Thai chilies on the stove, you might want to post a warning on your door.
A London restaurant found this out the hard way. In “Shoppers dive for cover as chef’s eyewatering chilli sauce causes a terror alert,” The Times of London (October 3, 2007) reports that “a mysterious cloud of acrid smoke” caused police to “[seal] off three roads and [evacuate] homes and businesses in the heart of Soho, fearing a chemical attack or a dangerous toxic leak.”
Wearing “specialist breathing apparatus,” police tracked the noxious fumes to their source: the Thai Cottage restaurant in D’Arblay Street. After breaking down the door, they “emerged from the smoke carrying a huge cooking pot containing about 9lb of smouldering dried chillies… which had been left dry-frying.” The chillies were an ingredient in a “six-month batch of nam prik pao, a super hot Thai dip to accompany prawn crackers.”
Chef Chalemchai Tangjariyapoon was bewildered by all the hullabaloo. “To us it smells like burnt chilli and it is slightly unusual. I can understand why people who weren’t Thai would not know what it was. But it doesn’t smell like chemicals.” The chef planned to mix the gargantuan pot of burnt chilies with more than 2 pounds of dried shrimp, 6-1/2 pounds of palm sugar, 2-1/2 pounds of shrimp paste, more than 2 pounds of tamarind and 9 pints of vegetable oil.
A much reduced recipe for home cooks accompanies the article.