Give Cucumber Tea Sandwiches A Spicy Upgrade With Calabrian Chilis

Cucumber sandwiches are a high tea classic. Delicate and dainty, they're perfect for nibbling alongside other bite-sized treats and refreshments. Yet, while they can be a deliciously fresh delight, they run the risk of being bland. After all, the sandwiches consist only of mellow ingredients like cucumber slices, mildly tangy cream cheese, and subtly sweet bread. A blank canvas for flavor, cucumber sandwiches can very easily be revamped with a hint of spice from Calabrian chilis.

In theory, any sort of spicy pepper could be used to upgrade lackluster tea sandwiches. Varieties like a smoky Aleppo or tangy Fresno could be suitable options, just as much as crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne powder. However, because every type of pepper boasts its own distinct flavor, it's worth thinking about which will fare best in a cucumber sandwich. And, there's just something about Calabrian chilis that make them the ideal choice.

Unlike some chilis that are strictly spicy, Calabrian chilis teem with complexity. Beyond their lingering (medium-level) spice, the peppers have a prominent smokiness and vibrantly fruity nuances, which are direct results of their unique sun-kissed climate. Given these layers of depth, Calabrian chilis are the perfect addition to boost flavor, add a bright pop of color, and most importantly, forgo the stereotype of plain-tasting, one-dimensional cucumber tea sandwiches.

How to craft a cucumber and Calabrian chili tea sandwich

First things first, Calabrian chilis can be found in many forms: fresh, dried, pickled, packed in oil, or worked into products like pastes, jams, or 'nduja sausage. So you have options when it comes to incorporating the fiery peppers into tea sandwiches. Oil-packed Calabrian chilis tend to be the easiest to track down from supermarkets and specialty retailers — they're also the best option for sandwich fillings based on their boldly preserved flavor and soft texture.

With a jar of spiced and smoky peppers selected, there are a few things to remember before assembling your cucumber sandwiches. For instance, if the chilis were packed in liquid, they need to be drained so as to avoid crafting a soggy sandwich. Additionally, not all Calabrian chilis will be sliced or chopped, which means you need to give them a quick mince. From there, mix the minced peppers directly into the cream cheese filling for the best diffusion of zesty flavor.

Once the Calabrian chilis have been prepped and handled accordingly, you can build the tea sandwiches. Start by spreading the chili-infused cream cheese on both sides of the bread, before layering on paper-thin cucumber slices and closing the sandwich. Slice into bite-size pieces, and serve. Just be sure to make enough, as these sweetly spicy tea sandwiches have a tendency to vanish quickly!