9 Ways to Preserve Fresh Chile Peppers

Peak chile season hits in August and September. Whether you are growing your own or finding them in the market, there’s a wide range of opportunities for preserving their fiery heat. First, here are some tips on how to handle them, then some great ways to put the chile pepper harvest to work.

Handling Chile Peppers

Capsaicin is the compound in chiles that gives them their heat. Chile peppers are rated on the Scoville scale from mildest to hottest, based on the amount of capsaicin in them. Mild peppers, such as Anaheim, are near the bottom while more incendiary varieties, such as Habanero, are closer to the top of the list. Hot on the tongue, the oils in chile peppers can also be irritating to the hands and eyes. Here are a few tips for working with hot chiles, particularly those that pack more heat.

  • If you are unfamiliar with the chile variety, look it up on the Scoville scale so you can adjust your recipe accordingly. Mix milder chiles with hotter to moderate the heat level to your taste preference.
  • Remove the pepper’s white pith and seeds to reduce the heat. Compost the pith, seeds and pepper top to reduce food waste.
  • If you are working with a large quantity of peppers, wear latex gloves (maybe even two pairs!) and change them periodically through your work. You may not feel the impact of contact until hours later, so don’t judge the need for gloves by the way your hands feel while you are cooking. An ounce of prevention will prevent a pound of pain later. Be sure to keep an eye out for any tears or holes that might let stinging pepper juice seep in!
  • Consider snipping chiles with kitchen shears or running them through the food processor instead of chopping them on a board to limit potential skin contact and to keep from spreading the chiles’ heat onto multiple surfaces.
  • Always clean any knives, cutting boards, utensils or machinery thoroughly with dish soap and hot water after using with chile peppers. Oil or alcohol can be used to remove stubborn residue from wooden cutting boards (and your hands if need be).

Preserving Chile Peppers

If you simply have way too many chile peppers on your hands, save some for this fall and winter! Whether you pickle them, turn them into jelly or dry them into your own chili powder mix, using these techniques will let you enjoy their heat all year long.

Quick Pickled Chiles

The easiest and quickest way to dispatch with a large number of peppers is to douse them in a hot brine to create a quick pickle. Simply heat 1-part water to 1-part distilled white vinegar, season with sugar and salt to taste and pour over sliced chiles. Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks. Pickled chiles are great to toss into macaroni and cheese and other baked casseroles; sprinkle onto pizzas; or use to make salsa.

Frozen Chile Peppers

Another simple way to stretch your chile peppers into the winter is by freezing them. If you slice them first, it’s easy to later add them directly into soups and stews. Crank up the chile flavor a notch by roasting and peeling them before popping them into the deep freeze. Add frozen chiles to recipes that have a wet consistency and/or batter like frittatas, cornbread and savory waffles.

Quick Red Chile Sauce

Apply the same quick pickle technique above with your go-to red chiles, then puree with a garlic clove to create a tangy pepper sauce. Sprinkle on eggs, a sandwich (try Pambazo, a Mexican salsa-soaked sandwich) or anywhere you want a little chile heat.

Canned Chile Peppers

If you want to store your pickled chile peppers for longer than a few weeks, use a trusted canning recipe to keep them shelf stable. Be sure to follow the directions carefully to enjoy your chiles all year round. Canned chiles can be drained and substituted in many recipes that call for fresh chiles, including chile-stewed meats, dips (like queso, for example), and enchiladas.

Dried Chile Peppers

Drying chiles offers a low-tech answer to preserving peppers. Air-drying is particularly well suited for thin skinned chiles such as Thai bird’s eye chiles. Juicy peppers, such as jalapenos, are more likely to mold before their moisture evaporates when air drying. Dehydrators, however, make quick work of drying and can be used to successfully to dry any variety of pepper. Use dried chile peppers to create homemade chile oil and chile powder (see below).

Chile Powder

Once your chiles are dried, pulse them in a coffee grinder to make your own chile powder. Add in other spices, such as cumin, coriander, dried citrus peels or dried garlic to make your own custom spice blends.

Chile Oil

To make a batch of delicious chile oil, simmer those dried chiles in neutral oil, such as organic canola. Cool, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 months. Chile oil is great drizzled on eggs or rice and can also be used to make a spicy vinaigrette or marinade. It’s also nice to toss with blanched vegetables or pasta for a quick blast of flavor.

Chile Pepper Jelly

Pepper jelly is a Southern classic that can be made with sweet or hot peppers. Serve it with cheese and crackers, use it instead of ketchup on burgers or slather it on top of a cream cheese bagel for an eye-opening breakfast.

Recipe: Fermented Hot Sauce

Sherri Brooks Vinton

Fermenting creates the beneficial bacteria that we often look for in yogurt and supplements. You can create your own probiotics by fermenting vegetables in a simple salt brine, as outlined in this recipe. Think of it as very flavorful vitamins.

Ingredients

2 pounds fresh chile peppers (such as Anaheim, Fresno or Serrano), coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar

Method

  1. Heat a 1-quart heavy duty glass jar, such as a canning jar, in boiling water for 10 minutes to sterilize.
  2. Mix peppers and salt together in a large bowl.
  3. Transfer peppers to jar and cover with 2” water. Use a small saucer or dish to keep peppers submerged. Cover jar with cheesecloth and secure rim with a rubber band or kitchen twine. Store jar in a cool, dark place for at least 5 days and up to 2 weeks, checking top every few days and spooning off any white bloom that forms on the surface. The longer the peppers ferment, the more pungent the sauce will be.
  4. When desired taste is achieved, transfer peppers to a blender, add vinegar and sugar, and blend until smooth.
  5. Transfer to jars or bottles and chill for up to three months.

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