Crouching Tiger, Hidden Naga

Merry christmas everyone!

I know it’s a day late but, well, christmas was a monday this year. One that I spent having a good time with good food and all of my immediate family. As well as just lazing around and taking the day off.

Today, though, I’m back to celebrate the holiday season with another spicy review.

No, not one that’s tackily themed to the occassion. One that was specially requested by a reader. Because what better way is there to celebrate such a gift giving festival than to give something back to one of you?

So, for this week’s review, we’re looking at Shahnaz Food Products’ Mr. Naga – A favourite product of the reddit user “PhatDuck”.

It’s a superhot indian pickle which he claims is a secret ingredient “used in pretty much every ‘curry’ restaurant in the country” but I feel like that might be a bit of an overstatement.

After all, how many curry houses do you know that serve something with naga in the name?

I’m sure that companies would cash in on the excitement surrounding the extreme heat of the peppers if they could so I’m willing to bet that if they don’t say it, they don’t use it.

But, that said, PhatDuck isn’t my only source on this one. I have heard a fair bit of less exaggerated talk about Mr. Naga and its use in restaurants from others as well. I don’t doubt that there’s some validity to his claims.

Yet, for now, let’s just get a better look at it.

2017-09-07 12.01.17

The label is white, with a red border top and bottom and huge block of that colour in the middle.

There we see its name, it’s heat claim and its product type (a “very hot pickle”), along with what I can only assume is a similar description in hindi.

A similarly white and red piece comes down from the gold lid of the jar to its body, acting as a seal indicator and again carrying the product name but, while this makes the branding quite clear, the actual imagery on this product is minimal.

One red chilli on the top and three red and green off to the sides, none looking quite like the ghost pepper you might expect from the name.

They’re similar but they’re the naga morich – A close, but not identical, relative of the more well known bhut jolokia. And yes, they are still just as hot.

It’s not great packaging but it would be decent enough if it weren’t for one small detail.

This same red and white is the colour scheme that’s been used on supermarket “economy” products for years. We’ve been conditioned to associate it with cheapness and the perceived quality of this product suffers as a result.

And yet, if you look past that to the pickle within, it’s such a deep, rich, gorgeous shade of red that I’m sure the packaging is just the result of cultural difference. It looks excellent both in the jar and out:

2017-09-07 12.04.09

And it smells just as delicious as it looks. It smells like a great curry paste, not the pickle it claims to be. Yet it doesn’t taste that way.

It’s salty, it’s a bit bitter and it’s just generally unpleasant. The chilli and spices are there, providing an excellent undertone with caraway and a fair bit of fenugreek, but those spices also taste rather raw. They, aside from the chilli’s minor contribution, seem to be what are providing the bitterness here and that’s largely overshadowing their other contributions for me.

I’d call its

Heat

6/10

which is really quite high. Besides that, though, all I’m getting when I eat this product raw is an oversalted indian pickle.

It’s not nice but I get the impression that it’s not meant to be.

Despite PhatDuck’s claims of using Mr Naga on toast or in a honey, mustard and mayo burger topping, I don’t see this as something that’s meant to be used raw.

To me, this seems more like a cook’s item. An ingredient. Something for use in dishes where the salt can disperse a bit and the bitterness is reduced to that achari style “dry” edge that works really well in certain curries.

Yet, while it’s clearly meant more for savoury ones, I like to test all my superhot ingredients in a korma first to really see how they can alter a dish. And, well, it wasn’t anything like a korma after this.

With just a tablespoon of Mr Naga, my boring supermarket korma sauce was transformed into a delicious, deep, red dish with not just the full bodied flavour I love most nagas for but also a well-crafted spice base supporting it. The fenugreek, of course, still being the main star of that show.

This made me wonder, was there another way I could pair off the bitter against something sweet and get a gorgeous middle ground?

The answer, of course, was yes.

I found that, while it had to be applied quite late into cooking to not burn, a blend of Mr Naga and honey made for a great glaze on any sort of roast – Meat or veg.

Or, on a more savoury note, it could act as a marinade for your meat. And, while I found it too strong on its own on pizza, as part of a more regular pizza sauce, I could really see it working.

There are plenty of ways to make it work as an ingredient and allow the spices to shine. I may not view it with quite the same reverence as its fanbase seems to but Mr. Naga does seem like a great cook’s item.

It certainly has some flavour behind its fire, it just needs a little taming to make the most of it.

2 thoughts on “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Naga

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