By Benjamin Daniells
One of our latest additions to the menu has been in the making for a few weeks and the whole team have been eager to get it on your plates. Amongst a few other delicious ingredients the dish involves the use of a very rare species, one known by many names. These include Rocoto, Locoto, Tree Chile and even Manzano pepper, depending where in it’s native South America you find it (oh and let’s agree to gloss over the logic here that maybe if it was known by the same name everywhere it might not be so rare). It’s from the pepper family and resembles a stocky chilli.
The locoto is really unusual in that it has black seeds, thick fleshy skin and hairy leaves. It’s species name, pubescens, literally means hairy. Obviously now your thinking of little pube covered leaves and you’re probably not that far off.
It’s our first year growing locotos and they have been an amazing addition to our polytunnels. They have a really curious growing habit, forming canopies just like a tree. Plus they have these petite purple flowers. The fruits have been ripening for the past few weeks now, transforming from moss green to Ferrari red and have reached about 5cm in length.
I originally described the locotos as a warming heat, like a decent whisky, permitting you to enjoy the flavour rather than blow your head off. Since we were aiming for an intriguing heat rather than something that would light up a true chilli fiend, we find these locotos ideal. On the Scoville Scale they average about 30,000 units. To put that into perspective, Scotch Bonnets are a face melting 100,000-400,000 units, whilst a good Jalapeño pepper is much milder at about 2,000. However, when they first came ripe, some of the chefs had a nibble and word soon got out that it brought one of them to tears (we’ve all been there). This seemed a bit at odds with other harvests, so I did some digging. It turns out there have been a few instances where some bad boy locotos have flown in at 250,000 units. Proper hot.
Needless to say, the Black Swan kitchen wizards set about creating an amazing process where the locotos are mixed with our Chocolate peppers and Dwarf chillies to make a ferment, which reduces the Locoto’s heat and ups the flavour to make an amazing dish.
The ferment currently seasons our Raw Dexter Beef dish. The beef, from Taste Tradition a mere 8 miles away from us, is fed on 4 Pints of Beer a day from the waste grains of Hambleton Brewery. It’s topped with grated Smoked Bone Marrow (Cured in sugar and salt, then Smoked) and finally some foraged Sweet Chestnut.
The taste of the locotos is superb but the process of discovery whilst growing them has maybe been the best bit. Definitely making these unique plants a seasonal favourite. If you’re visiting the restaurant, feel free to poke your head through the tunnel door and see these plants in all their glory.
Follow Ben over on our newest Instagram account @theblackswangarden to see what else he is growing and foraging here at The Black Swan at Oldstead.