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.
jeyuk bokkeum stir fried pork
Mexico City Spiced Edamame
“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 »
Penn Hongthong, the author of Simple Laotian Cooking (Hippocrene, 2003), taught us that charring the vegetables for this dip is the secret to its smoky flavor.
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 spicy braise, garnished with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, is one of the region’s most well-known dishes.
Get the recipe for Sichuan Tofu and Ground Beef in Red Chile Sauce (Mapo Tofu) »
Bright, earthy and spicy, this garlicky cilantro sauce hits all the right notes for a summer-time cook-out.
Simple pork dumplings doused in a spicy, mouth-numbing chile oil.
Get the recipe for Sichuan Pork Wontons (Chao Shou) »
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 »
Goan Pork Vindaloo Curry »
Chicken thighs can also be used to make this aromatic Indonesian curry.
Get the recipe for Padang-Style Chicken Curry (Gulai Ayam) »
For this beloved dish of China’s Sichuan province, a tangle of wheat noodles is topped with a spicy, pungent pork sauce. This recipe is adapted from one in Fuschia Dunlop’s
Land of Plenty (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003). Inspired by an article in SAVEUR No. 154 (March 2013), it first appeared in our Jan/Feb 2014 SAVEUR 100 issue with the article 20 Years of SAVEUR: Capital of Heat. Get the recipe for Sichuan Noodles with Spicy Pork Sauce »
Yunnan breakfast noodle soup
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 »
Mezcalita de Piña
A classic hearty Korean stew made with meaty pork neck, potatoes, and nutty perilla seeds. Sesame seeds cannot be substituted for the perilla in this recipe; seek perilla seed, also called wild sesame seed, out at Asian markets. Optional but recommended: Serve this dish with its
accompanying dipping sauce. Get the recipe for Gamjatang (Spicy Pork Neck and Potato Stew) »
Getting tired of your plain winter root vegetables? Throw some homemade kimchi on there to spice up a standard dish.
Get the recipe for Quick Basic Kimchi »
Chicken and Prawn Curry
Watercress with Spicy Chile and Sesame Vinaigrette
A rich, spicy stew topped with bright cilantro leaves, a squeeze of citrus, and thin-sliced hot chiles, nihari is the ultimate comfort food.
Get the recipe for Pakistani Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew (Dumbay Ki Nihari) »
2) Braise or Steam Meats and Fish
Yucatán-Style Shredded Pork Tacos with Achiote (Cochinita Pibil Tacos)
Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tum)
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) »
These lavishly spiced ribs have some serious heat and require an overnight marinade, so be sure to plan accordingly.
Get the recipe for Triple-Cooked Spareribs with Chiles (Lu Rou) »
We first fell in love with these lightly spicy lo mein noodles when chef Marcus Samuelsson
dropped by our kitchen to test drive some recipes for his Harlem restaurant, Streetbird Rotisserie. Laced with oyster sauce, ginger, and yuzu kosho and tossed with pickled mustard greens, the dish is a medley of sweet, tangy, spicy, and sour. Get the recipe for Sho’ Nuff Noodles »
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 »
Tender lamb simmers in a fiery sauce in this recipe from Adhoo’s in Srinagar, Kashmir.
Get the recipe for Kashmiri Lamb »
This grilled squid dish, covered in a tangy sauce and topped with peanuts and cilantro, is a Thai roadside treat.
Get the recipe for Thai Charred Squid (Pla Muek Yang) »
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 »
Sansho, the Japanese equivalent of Sichuan pepper, adds kick to these sake-and-mirin-marinated wings. A fresh squeeze of lemon brightens them up for serving.
Get the recipe for Japanese-Style Chicken Wings »
Ssäm, which is Korean for “wrapped,” refers to the lettuce wraps that enclose spicy grilled fish in this recipe from Matthew Rudofker, executive chef at New York City’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar. Get the recipe for Fish Ssäm with Spicy Chile Sauce »
Spicy Thai-Style Zucchini Carrot Salad
At the Viva Taco bus in Turlock, Silvestre Valencia adds jalapeño pickling liquid to the pork braise, which tenderizes the meat and keeps it from drying out.
Get the recipe for Carnitas Tacos »