Growing your own chillies is a really rewarding hobby but can sometimes be spoiled if you cannot go through all your fresh chillies before they become overripe. A good way to use your entire crop and have the benefit of eating your own chillies throughout the year is to dry them, pickle them and even freeze them. Important steps have to be taken though in order to preserve fresh chillies. Here are a few techniques for conservation:
One of the most common methods and widely used by chilli experts is to dry fresh chillies. Not only do these keep for months on end but they are also a quick and efficient way to add chillies to recipes without much fuss.
Drying chillies is all about temperature and ventilation, if either one is not quite right then it can ruin your finished product. Too hot and your pods will become brittle, too cool and damp and you might lose them to mould. In order to avoid this you should first rinse off the chillies in salty water to kill off any surface bacteria as this will help prevent mould.
Spread out the fresh chillies on some moisture absorbent tissue like kitchen towel in a warm place such as an airing cupboard or ideally a greenhouse. If summer allows it you can also spread them on a table to dry naturally under the sun. We have also tried putting them in an oven over a very low heat and with the door kept ajar but this method is not ideal as you only have to be distracted for a second for the chillies to become brittle.
You have to make sure your chillies are being turned regularly so that all sides of the fruit are allowed to dry. Most chillies will become darker as they dry and shrink in size. Some might also take longer than others due to their thick flesh like Habaneros compared to Cayennes.
Once dried, store the chillies in an airtight sealed container for whole chillies or alternatively in a coffee grinder.
You could also string your chillies into a “Ristra” as these make lovely decorations and gifts. All you need to do is wrap strong string around the stems of the chillies or through the stem if you can, and hang them up in a warm airy place to dry for later consumption.
We have been drying chillies for years the traditional way but if you are pressed for time and have a good amount of chillies to deal with then a dehydrator might be an investment you need to make. We have one with separate trays that can be left on overnight and produces great results although the smell can sometimes be a bit overpowering!
Celebrity chefs have come up with a lot of chilli preserves or pickles over the last few years as these are really a great way to introduce chillies in your diet but also because the variety of chilies, colours and potency can make things really interesting and a striking personalized gift for anybody especially if you pay a bit of attention to the jar and label/ribbon/fabric you choose to decorate it with.
There are lots of recipes for pickling chillies but the technique is pretty much the same:
You will need the following:
1 Litre Vinegar – White, white wine, cider or rice
3 tablespoons of salt (we always use pickling salt)
Bay leaves and peppercorns to taste (optional)
Reduce the amounts above in accordance to the amount of chillies you have
Start by sterilizing the jars/bottles you are going to use by placing them in the oven at 50 degrees Celcius , bottles need to be wide mouthed to allow the chillies access if kept whole but you can of course slice them if you find it easier.If you are using whole chillies then you will need to add holes or a slit down each chilli to allow the vinegar to enter.
Pack your chillies into the sterilized containers then start preparing the picking vinegar i.e heat the salt and vinegar in a pan until the salt has dissolved and the vinegar is on the verge of boiling. Pour the mixture over the chillies until they are covered, then tightly seal the container.
Once all done, store the jars in a dark and dry place in order for the pickling process to work best. The chillies should be ready to eat in about 4 weeks.
Freezing can be a bit of a hit and miss sometimes but it depends what you use the chillies for. If you want to chop some chillies to add to a nice salad, frozen chillies might not be too appealing as they often lose their shape and texture. If used in stews however then you can be sure that the chilli is used to its best as chillies do not lose any heat or flavor through the freezing process.
To freeze your chillies you need to spread them out on a baking tray, making sure that they do not touch each other and put the tray in the freezer (if you have a modern freezer, do not put the tray in the Quick Freeze drawer as this is too harsh for chillies). We tend to remove stalks and sometimes seeds as they can go brown when frozen, but can be removed when you use them too.
Once frozen you can pop them into a freezer bag or container, the great advantage of freezing being that they do not clump together over time, making them easier to use in the future.
So there you go, here are three great ways of keeping your whole crop of chillies safe for the winter months as let’s face it, any chilli head needs a chilli fix even during lean times!