These classic wings are tossed in margarine and hot sauce, just like at Anchor Bar where they were invented. Todd Coleman
We love heat. The burn from spicy foods is addicting, and we can’t get enough. It’s not all about in-your-face heat, though: the world’s most fantastically flaming peppers shine brightest when used in complex, layered dishes that have a big enough flavor to handle the burn. From the world’s finest curries to the best zesty tacos, it seems our obsession is shared with folks all over the globe.
But there are some standouts: China is full of spicy food, and nowhere is this more true than in the province of Sichuan, home of the titular peppercorns, which are known for producing a citrusy, mouth-numbing effect that combine with the region’s blazing chiles for a flavor known as ma la. One of the most iconic Sichuan dishes is mapo tofu, in which tofu and ground beef are cooked in a vibrant red chile sauce; another being Sichuan pork wontons, bathed in red chile oil. India, too, is known for bringing the heat. Vindaloo is a Goan with Portuguese roots that gets tartness from vinegar and tamarind and plenty of heat from a variety of chiles. Coming back to the US, we have our own spicy classics that run the gamut from sauced-up bar grub (yes, you, Buffalo wings) to the hybrid jalapeño-fortified cuisine we’ve created with our Southern neighbor.
Ready to bring the burn with the absolute best spiciest recipes in our arsenal? Consider this your fair warning. And we recommend not drinking water: it just makes it worse.
“Pepper is for colds and coughs, and turmeric heals wounds,” says cookbook author Viji Varadarajan. In his native South India, milagu rasam, a broth made with those key ingredients, also includes a dose of tamarind, which is believed to help heal sore throats. Get the recipe for Milagu Rasam »
The secret to Nashville’s famous hot chicken is in the layering: The bird is marinated in a spicy buttermilk brine, then dredged with more flour and spice, double-fried, and finally slathered with a fiery butter paste to create a crunchy, peppery coating. One bite into its burnished orange crust reveals first a tangy crunch, and then a deeper, complex spice that leaves a lingering fire behind. Adjust the heat by adding as much—or as little—cayenne as you like. Get the recipe for Nashville Hot Chicken »
This tangy, spicy curry from Goa, India, has roots in vinh d’alho, a stew brought to the region by Portuguese colonists. Now an Indian restaurant staple, it comes in countless variations—some fiery, some mild—from the subcontinent to the British Isles. Get the recipe for Chicken Vindaloo »
Toss cashews and peanuts in caramelized sugar, fish sauce, garlic, and chile for a powerful, can’t-stop-eating bar snack. Add the lime, shallot, and basil right before serving so the nuts stay crispy. Get the recipe for Spicy Cashew-Peanuts »
This richly spiced chicken dish is adapted from a recipe in Madhur Jaffrey’s classic Flavors of India (West 175 Publishing, 1995). According to Jaffrey, “What gives this a very special southern flavor is the use of fennel seeds, curry leaves, and, of course, the pulse (legume) urad dal. This is definitely a dish you will want to make very frequently.” We couldn’t agree more. Get the recipe for Chettinad Pepper Chicken »
Smoky red Kashmiri chile powder and rich ghee are the foundations of the sauce for tender lamb shanks in this classic dish served as part of the Kashmiri feast called wazwaan. Cooked for weddings and other auspicious occasions, the wazwaan is comprised of 36 dishes, the majority of them lamb. The wazas, or cooks, who prepare the meal come from long lines of chefs schooled in the art. Get the recipe for Kashmiri Chile-Braised Lamb (Rogan Josh) »
The small flap of meat between the chuck and the rib eye in Wagyu is called the zabuton, meaning “cushion” in Japanese. Nicely marbled with intramuscular fat, the little-known cut—sometimes dubbed a Denver steak—is buttery and rich. Get the recipe for Braised Zabuton with Coffee Beans »
Every element of this taco—inspired by those at Don Pepe Taqueria in Fresno—is amped up, from the red rice simmered in a blend of chicken stock and puréed tomatoes to the quick-marinated shrimp. Use large flour tortillas as tacos or wrap them into a burrito. Get the recipe for Shrimp Tacos »