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How to Store Fresh Chillies
Choosing and storing chillies
When buying fresh chillies, apply the same criteria as when buying sweet bell peppers. The fruit should look bright and unblemished.
Some chillies are naturally wrinkled when ripe so a smooth skin is not essentially what you would look for. Just a fresh, natural look.
Avoid any chillies that seem limp or dry, or that have bruises on the skin.
When buying chillies from a supermarket, put your hand inside a plastic bag first, then touch the fruit as chillies will leave residue on your hands and if you touch your face or lips, you will experience an unpleasant stinging sensation, which can be quite strong.
To store chillies, wrap them in kitchen paper, place in a plastic bag and keep in the salad compartment of the refrigerator for a week or more.
Chillies can be frozen to keep them fresh. There is no need to blanch them if you plan to use them soon.
Frozen chillies are great for the busy cook, as you can slice them and prepare them even if they are only half unfrozen, so you will save time. You can also crush them with garlic and ginger to make a fragrant spice paste.
To dry chillies, thread them on a string, hang them in a warm place until dry, then crush them and store in a sealed container.
What equipment do you need for cooking with chillies?
To work with chillies you will need:
- gloves - the fine disposable hospital type will do just fine
- a mortar and pestle - ideal for grinding chillies and making chilli pastes
- a food processor - faster than a mortar and pestle but has to be carefully cleaned afterward
- a spice grinder - a coffee grinder that you keep just for grinding chillies is perfect to make dry spice mixtures
The Many Faces of Hot Chilli
The chilli family is a large one. There are more than two hundred different types of chilli. Chilli belongs to the same family (the nightshade solanacae family) which also contains tomatoes and potatoes. Most of the chillies we know are used for eating in salads and cooking. You can make lots of delicious dishes using chilli and for that reason is it good to know what the different types of chillies are used for.
Heat scale 2-3. Large green chillies with an alternative name: California long green.
The chillies are good for stuffing, with freshand fruity flavour, something like tart apples and green bell peppers. Anaheim skins are quite tough so these chillies are best roasted and peeled. The dried chillies are used to make a mild chilli powder.
Heat scale 3. These are large chillies, at their best dried when they have strong fruity aroma like dates or dried figs. After you rehydrate the chillies, they can be stuffed and sliced or chopped in stir-fries.
Heat scale 3. These dried chillies are about 15cm long with rough skin. The mature fresh chillies are a deep red-brown colour and have a smooth texture. These chillies have a mild, slightly bitter flavour, somewhat reminiscent of green tea. Best for use in salsas.
Heat scale 3. These dark green chillies ripen to a rich red colour, and have a juicy, refreshing taste. They are great for salads, adding a mango-like flavour.
Heat scale 3. A dried chilli with a thin, wrinkled, dark brown skin. The taste is smoky and herb-like.
Heat scale 3. These are bigchillies that look like sweet bell peppers, and are perfect for stuffing. They start off being green and ripen to red or dark brown. The flavour is quite spicy with a hint of peach. Poblano complimentsother chillies.
Heat scale 3-4. Very dark brown skinny chilli best used dried. After rehydration, they have a lemon-like flavour with a hint of cucumber and apples. Pasado makes a great salsa, also used on pizzas.
Heat scale 4. Cascabel chilli has a nutty woody flavour which is best apprecited when the skin is removed. Soak the cascabel, then scrape the flesh off the skin or sieve it. Great in stews, soups and salsas.
Heat scale 4. These large chillies look like cherries. Their skins are tough so they are best peeled. Cherry hot chillies have a sweetish flavour and make good pickles.
Heat scale 4. Costeno Amarillo is a pale orange dried chilli which is great for use in yellow salsas and Mexican mole sauce. It has a citrus flavour and is good for soups and stews.
Heat scale 4. Pasilla chilli is deep purple, has a thin skin and smells of liquorice. Pasilla has a spicy, fruity flavour that is great with shellfish, moles and mushrooms.
Heat scale 5. Fresno are plump chillies that come in red, green or yellow colour. You can serve them instead of jalapenos.
Heat scale 4-7. Jalapenos look like stubby fingers and have shiny skins. They can be used in their green and red stage of ripeness. Jalapenos have a grassy flavour and are used in many dishes such as salsas, salads, dips and stews. You can also preserve them. Jalapenos have very thick skins so they are usually smoke-dried and then they are knows as chipotle chillies.
Hungarian Wax Chillies
Heat scale 5. Hungarian Wax chillies have a very waxy appearance and feel to their skins. They start of yellow instead of green and have a lovely colour so they are used in salads and salsas.
Heat scale 6-7. These chillies have several colours such as yellow, red and dark brown and there are different varieties of this particular type of chilli. A hot and popular chilli used in to spice up all sorts of cooked dishes.
Heat scale 6-8. Cayenne chilli has several varieties of this very popular chilli, best knows for the long red type. They have a fiery but sweet flavour best brought out in sauces.
Heat scale 6-10. This smoke-dried jalapeno has a wrinkled dark red skin and thick flesh. You need to cook these chillies for a long time on low temperature so that they soften which will bring out his full flavour. The taste is hot and smokey.
Heat scale 7. Serranos are the classic Mexican green chilli best known for lending its flavour to the quacamole. Their flavour is citrus-like and fresh. These chillies has thin skin so you don't need to peel them. They can also be dried.
Heat scale 8. Small and extremely hot, known as 'Thai chillies'. They have thin flesh and are devilishly hot so handle carefully. They are also good dried.
Heat scale 8. Sold both dried and fresh, De Arbol chillies are slim, orange red and very very hot. They have a clean grassy flavour but are extremely hot so handle carefully. Add them to soups or use them with vinegar or oil. These must be soaked in hot water for 20-30 minutes before use. If dried, they can be crumbled and added to stews. To make them less hot, get rid of the seeds.
Heat scale 9. This delicious chilli is very hot and fruity in flavour. It is quite small and has purple black seeds. Not very widely used because of the extreme heat.
Heat scale 10. One of the hottest chillies known to man, the habanero has a lantern-like shape and a great fruity flavour which is kind of delicate, almost like chardonnay wine or apricots. You need to wear strong gloves when preparing them and don't put them too close to your nose or eyes, they have an intense heat and will burn your face if you come into contact. They are great with fruit and in salsas. Dried habaneros are also good, and retain medium-thick flesh and their wrinkled skins. When rehydrated they have a rich tropical-fruit flavour.
Heat scale 10. Scotch bonnets resemble habaneros and have many of the same properties. Extremely hot, they are principal ingredient in jerk seasoning. Must be deseeded before use so you can tolerate their intense heat.
How to grow chillies in your own garden
If you're a big chilli fan you can try cultivating your chillies at home. It is as easy as growing your own tomatoes as chillies need similar conditions. They like higher temperatures, need quite a lot of watering and slightly acid soils.
You can grow them in tubs or hanging baskets on your balcony, just make sure they get plenty of sun. Water well in dry weather and keep away from cold temperatures. You can leave them behind your window on the windowsill to keep out cold. You will have to stake taller varieties but most chilli plants will survive without elaborate care. Feed fortnightly with a potash fertilizer.
Harvest your chillies about 12-16 weeks after planting.
Learn Simple Techniques to Cook with Chilli
Soaking Dried Chillies
Most dried chillies must be rehydrated before being used. In some instances, a recipe will recommend toasting as a first step, to intensify the flavour. This can be done by putting the seeded chillies in a roasting pan in the oven for a few minutes, or by pressing them on the surface of a hot, dry, heavy frying pan. Do not let them burn, or they could become bitter. Once you've done that, follow the steps below.
- Wipe the chillies to remove any surface dirt. If you like, you can slit them and shake out the seeds before soaking. You can also just brush away any seeds you can see.
- Put the chillies in a bowl and pour over hot water to cover. You can also fit a saucer in the bowl to keep the chillies submerged. Soak for 20-30 minutes or even up to an hour, until you see the chilli colour is restored and the chillies have softened and swelled.
- Drain the chillies, cut off the stalks if necessary, then slit them and scrape out the seeds. Slice or chop the flesh. If the chillies are to be pureed, process them with a little of the soaking water. Sieve the puree if necessary.
Roasting Fresh Chillies
There are several ways of roasting fresh chillies. You use the grill, roast in the oven, dry-fry as explained below, or hold them over a gas flame.
- Put the chillies in a dry frying pan and place over the heat until the skins are charred a blistered. Or you can just roast the chillies in a griddle pan.
- For larger chillies that are to be stuffed, make a net slit down the side of each one. place in a dry frying pan over a moderate heat, turning frequently until the skins blister.
- To roast chillies on a skewer over a flame, spear them on a long-handled metal skewer over a flame of a gas burner until the skins blister and darker.
- Slip the roasted chillies into a strong plastic bag and tie the top to keep the steam in.
- Set aside for 20 minutes. Take the chillies out of the bag and remove the skins, either by peeling them off, or by rubbing the chillies with a clean dishtowel. Cut off the stalks, then slit the chillies and, using a sharp knife, scrape out and discard the seeds.
When making chilli powder, this method gives a distinctive and smoky taste.
- Soak the chillies, if dried, pat dry and then dry fry in a heavy pan until crisp. You can also do this on a griddle. In either case, watch the chillies carefully because they can suddenly burn, and then you have to start all over again.
- Transfer to a mortar and grind to a fine powder with a pestle. Store in an airtight container.