The Delicious Datil Pepper from St. Augustine, Florida

When I think of peppers or chilies I think of warm summer—even tropical climates. I imagine splashing waves, hammocks, sea breezes, steel drums, seafood, dark, lovely ladies and handsome men with a lightness in their walk and a song in their heart that make cold winds disappear, at least in my imagination. This is also the time of year when many of us are fortunate enough to visit such warm weather places like St. Augustine FL, and try the fiery yet fruity datil pepper.

Datils are similar in strength to habaneros or Scotch Bonnets, but have a sweeter flavor. Locals and visitors who continue to return to St. Augustine—where the majority of datils are grown—say the flavor is virtually primal and exceptional.

The origin of datils suggests they were brought to St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, by indentured workers from the island of Minorca in the late 18th century. Others suggest the pepper came from the slave trade in St. Augustine because the pepper is almost identical to a West African pepper called the fatalii. Still others indicate that datils were brought from Cuba around 1880 by a jelly maker, S.B. Valls. In fact, all of this history may be valid say many locals who are pleased they can eat and benefit from the pepper’s popularity.

Datil festivals and many local sauces have made the city of St. Augustine a destination for many. Here is a very popular St. Augustine recipe that you will enjoy, although you may need to contact a datil hot sauce company or St. Johns County Agricultural Center, located at 3125 Agricultural Center Drive in St. Augustine, FL, 32092, to buy seeds to grow your own datil plants.

Read more about what St. Augustine has to offer.

Minorcan Clam Chowder
Serves 4 to 6
(Adapted by Florida food blogger Robin Draper)

2 6.5 oz. canned diced clams, drain the juice (retain clams) and add any time during cooking. Retain clams.
(You will get one cup of clam juice from two cans of 6.5 oz. of canned clams).
8-oz. bottle clam juice or juice from 2 cans of clams
4 oz. salt pork
1 datil pepper, minced (lose the seeds and use half a datil if you’re heat shy), or use datil hot sauce
1 medium onion, diced in small pieces
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
1 cup diced small red potatoes, peeled
1 15-oz. can chopped tomatoes
3 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp fresh garlic (1-2 cloves)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
3 bay leaves

1. Boil the diced potatoes until done and set aside.

2. Take 4 oz. of salt pork and mince. Place in soup pot and cook for 10 minutes.

3. When the salt pork is lightly browned, scoop out, set aside and with the remaining rendered fat, add the diced onion, green pepper and carrots to the pot. Cook 5 to 10 minutes until the onions look translucent. Add one tablespoon olive oil if insufficient fat has been rendered.

4. Add the 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes, 3 tablespoons of tomato paste to the pot plus all the seasonings (fresh or dried)—garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme and salt. Add one minced datil pepper or 2 to 3 teaspoons of datil hot sauce to taste.

5. Add the diced clams and cooked salt pork and potatoes. Heat just long enough until all is heated through—about 5 minutes.

6. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Soup is better the next day if you can wait until flavors meld. Enjoy.

Gina’s Shrimp Pilau
Serves 4 to 6
(Adapted by Anne C. Heymen from the mother of St. Augustine’s Gina Spiller)

The word pilau refers to a rice dish that has been prepared in a seasoned broth of onions and vegetables and served with shellfish, chicken or game. It arrived with African slaves and is very popular in the Caribbean and Southern states. However, the Langdon Clay article that defines pilau in Saveur Magazine (Jan. 19, 2007) does not use datil peppers nor salt pork in their pilau recipe. The recipe below is an authentic version.

½ pound salt pork, diced small. Bacon can be used if salt pork not available.
2 onions, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 15-oz cans, crushed pear tomatoes
10 whole garlic cloves
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried marjoram
1 pinch saffron threads
3 bay leaves, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
1 datil pepper, chopped. Substituting another chili pepper will alter the recipe. Use gloves & extreme caution when handling
4 cups water
2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 cups long-grain rice, washed 3 times

1. Cook the salt pork in a heavy-bottomed pot and add the onions and green pepper. Sauté the onions and garlic until they are limp. Add tomatoes, thyme, marjoram, saffron, bay leaves, salt, pepper and datil pepper.

2. Cook until thickened. Add water. Bring to a rolling boil.

3. Add the shrimp and the rice. Stir, cover and lower heat. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes. Stir and remove from heat.

4. Allow to stand for an additional 30 minutes or until the rice is done.

Chef Allan Zox

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