Here are ways to preserve your chile pepper harvest so you can whip up spicy fixings year-round.
By Haley Gray
Now that we’ve finally eaten up summer’s bounty of squash and tomatoes, piles of chile peppers loom in the fall garden. Try as you might, you can only eat so many hot peppers at once. But when the garden overflows with Big Jims, Anaheims, jalapeños, serranos and habañeros, options abound. Try the following techniques to make the most of your autumn crop, and remember to wear plastic gloves to protect your skin when working with chiles. Don’t touch your eyes or face, and make sure your prep space is well ventilated.
1. Sun-Dried Chiles
Thoroughly wash chiles, removing dirt and debris and discarding damaged chiles (they won’t keep). Pat chiles dry before placing them on a drying rack where both the tops and bottoms will get air. Set the rack in a sunny, well-ventilated place for three or more days.
2. Hang-Dried Chiles
Clean chiles and pat dry. Pierce each pepper with a needle just under the cap and thread through a strand of fishing line to hang your peppers. Hang the strand in a well-ventilated sunny place for three days to one week.
3. Oven-Dried Chiles
Slice cleaned chiles lengthwise and lay seed-side up on a baking sheet. Bake at 125˚ F for several hours or until the chiles are brittle.
4. Crushed Chiles
Remove the seeds from your dried chiles and set them aside. Crush or grind the chiles with a mortar and pestle or an electric grinder. Mix in seeds to taste to create spicy red pepper flakes. Store in the fridge for up to two years. Red pepper flakes pair perfectly with any pasta dish.
5. Frozen Chiles
Keeping chiles in the freezer affects their texture more than their flavor, which won’t change much. After thawing, chiles will be limp, and their skins will easily slide off if they were roasted first. Clean fresh peppers before tightly packing them into a freezer bag, and use a straw to suck out air to create a vacuum seal. Chiles keep well in the freezer for up to a year. Frozen green chiles with skins and seeds removed are a favorite addition to stews and soups, like New Mexico-style green chili soup and turkey green chili.
Dried peppers will keep up to two years, if stored in an airtight container in a dry, cool place. Always check for mold before rehydrating dried peppers.
There’s no shortage of things to do with dried chiles. Rehydrated ancho or guajillo chiles can be made into a versatile Mexican red chile sauce for everything from enchiladas to soups. Or use them for a flavor-packed adobo sauce to dress up chicken or pork. Mild pasilla chiles shine in stews, while dried and ground chipotles lend themselves to nearly any Southwestern dish.
6. Oiled Chiles
After washing chiles, slice lengthwise and remove seeds to your desired heat level. Broil the peppers or roast them on a grill. Pack the peppers into a sterile jar and pour in olive oil to completely cover. Seal and store in in a cool, dark place for up to three months. The chiles are a zesty addition to any stir-fry, and the spicy oil adds extra punch to any dish.
7. Ground Chiles
Toast dried chiles first in a dry frying pan over medium heat for about five minutes. Remove and cool, then grind. A mortar and pestle yields the most aromatic flavor, but it’s tedious work. An easier route is to use a spice grinder. Ground chili powder is perfect for nearly any dish that needs some heat, and zests up fall dishes like grilled corn on the cob and winter classics like broccoli-cheddar soup.
8. Pickled Chiles
Pickled chiles are great on sandwiches, and the spicy vinegar makes an excellent salad-dressing base. Options abound for flavoring pickled peppers. Remove the seeds to the desired spice level and pack the peppers into a sterile jar. Then add your desired flavorings, like peppercorns, dried spices, salt, bay leaves or fresh herbs. Dissolve sugar in the vinegar if you like sweet pickled chiles, and fill the jar with vinegar to cover. The longer the peppers sit in the jar, the stronger the pickled taste becomes, so you decide the best time to indulge. Store jars in the fridge for up to three months.
9. Chili Paste
Made with dried chiles, oil and often a handful of other ingredients, chili paste is a staple in many cuisines. Dried chiles are more flavorful in a paste if they’re toasted first, either in the oven or a dry pan. Soak the toasted peppers in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain and purée the chiles, and put them in a food processer with a dash of oil to process. Consider tossing extras into your paste, like fresh minced ginger, minced garlic, shallots, sugar, macadamia nuts, fresh lime juice, or shrimp or fish paste. Store the paste in a sterilized jar for up to six months in the fridge. Chili paste is great with many Asian and stir-fry dishes, and can also be used as a condiment, dipping sauce or marinade