Do More With Your Hot Pepper Harvest
Have you ever accidentally ordered too many hot pepper plant varieties and then accidentally planted too many hot pepper plants out of pure excitement for summer flavors? Of course you have!
We've all been there; the seed catalog is open and the varieties are impossible to pass up. You think one or two plants of each type will be just enough and then the hot pepper plants do what they do best in the summer heat and start producing like crazy. The good news is, hot peppers, while they are delicious fresh in salsa, pico de gallo, in savory dishes and margaritas, they can also be preserved in so many ways for use in the winter months and beyond.
So what can you do with all those hot peppers you're picking?
Try Drying Them
Drying hot peppers is an easy method for preserving the flavor and heat of your harvest into a form that has a long shelf life. Whether you're after hot pepper flakes or you're trying to dry the peppers halved or whole for use in salsa, sauce making and other recipes, peppers can be harvested and dried using sunlight, the oven or a food dehydrator. When drying your hot peppers using sunlight, put the hot peppers flat on a baking sheet and place outside in full sun during the sunlight hours. Make sure they do not get rained on or covered in dew and place a screen over any halved or cut peppers to block insects. Peppers can also be dried in a kitchen window, under the cover of a barn, shed or porch by threading the peppers together with string and hanging them in a decorative garland together. When drying peppers in the oven, you will get the same results but much quicker. Cut peppers in half or in preferred size and lay out on a baking sheet. Bake the peppers at the lowest setting possible in your oven for several hours with the oven door cracked to allow moisture to escape. During this time, it is good to flip the peppers around every so often to ensure they are evenly drying. For the easiest drying method in as little as 8-12 hours, putting hot peppers into a food dehydrator gives you a shelf stable product quickly and efficiently. With any of these methods, peppers are dried when they are brittle and easily broken up with your fingers. You can place the peppers in a mason jar with a lid and put in the pantry for use all the way up until next year's peppers start to fruit.
They Can Be Frozen
If you love the taste of fresh peppers, freezing them is a great option. Freezing hot peppers captures the flavor of the raw flesh the best and hangs onto some of the crunch. Methods for how you decide to freeze the peppers really depends on personal preference, but the one thing that really helps to preserve them and protect them from freezer burn is to make sure they are dry when they are put into the freezer or vacuum sealed bags and that most of the air has been removed. That means that if you wash them before you freeze them, letting them air dry or drying them off thoroughly before they go into the bags keeps them fresher, longer. When it comes to hot peppers, you can freeze them whole, dice them up, or de-stem them and remove the seeds so that when you're preparing your meal, you're ready for the pan. If you like to work with hot peppers without their skins, freezing them generally makes it easy to remove the skins when they are thawed for use.
Pickling Peppers is Perfect
If you're looking for something to add some culinary edge to your pepper storage, pickling peppers is a great way to preserve their delicious flavor while giving them some extra punch. If the idea of pickling is intimidating, you can always start with an easy quick pickle, which is a simple process that does not involve canning or long term storage and has you enjoying tasty pickled peppers in 10 minutes or less. Once you fall in love with that pickled pepper flavor, moving onto refrigerator stable pickled peppers can help you keep these delicious sandwich, pizza, and taco toppings for a month or more in the refrigerator and will soften and develop flavor the longer they sit. For pickled peppers that will last longer than a month, batches can be canned for long term storage in your pantry. If you want your pickled peppers to stay pretty spicy, leave the seeds in the mix. If you'd like them to be a little less spicy, you can take the seeds out.
Ever Heard of Pepper Salt?
Sometimes when it comes to bold flavors, you want to leave it up to the eater to decide how spicy or salty they want things to get on their plate. Hot pepper salt is a great way to allow people to choose their level of heat and is a great finishing touch on so many different dishes. Whether you're looking to jazz up some sweet corn, garnish a summer cocktail or sneak in some spice on your grilled steak, poultry or fish, hot pepper salt is incredibly easy to make. Just blitz the fresh hot peppers up and mix with salt. It's that easy! Sometimes, as the hot pepper particles "cure" in the salt, they will release a delicious, salty liquid that is a great addition to dishes. If you'd prefer to keep things dry, simply add more salt and shake it up.
So Many Hot Sauces
Everybody has their favorite hot sauce. It could have to do with the crazy label, nostalgia, or even the wild description on the bottle. The most important quality of a top shelf hot sauce, is of course, flavor. When it comes to making hot sauce from your own crop, you will find the freshness and homegrown taste hard to beat when you compare it to store bought products. The different varieties of hot peppers you use will make a different hot sauce and experimenting with this can lead you down a creative rabbit hole and may persuade you into planting even more of these prolific producers. There are so many different types of hot sauce and with such diverse uses. Hot sauce can be canned for storage in the pantry or even lacto fermented for a sharp, punchy flavor.
Impress Your Family with Hot Giardiniera
What's more delicious than a traditional Italian Giardiniera? This pickled veggie topping makes the best muffuletta sandwiches, ups the ante on pizza and takes your homemade pasta salad to a new level. Originating in Italy, this condiment made a serious name for itself in the Chicago area as Italian immigrants moved in and brought their rich culinary heritage with them. Giardiniera is used in so many different ways and is especially delicious served hot with some homemade hot peppers added to the mix. It can be made refrigerator stable or it can even be canned for long term storage.
Expand Your Spices with Chili Powder
As we head into fall, there is a call on the wind to get our sweaters out, find all of our missing socks and pull out the one-pot dish recipes that heat the home and nourish bodies from warm bowls. It can be hard to get there in the imagination when it's still so hot outside, but in this heat, while your pepper plants are still making the magic happen, it's a great time to prepare for those hearty dishes by making some homemade chili powder. Chili powder is an excellent method for extending the use of your chilies. Often, a small amount can go a long way in a dish and this delicious spice can keep in your pantry all winter long. In order to make chili powder, you will have to dry the peppers like listed above and gather the remaining flavors of your choice to add to the mix. It can be as sweet, smoky, or spicy as you like and kitchen experimentation will definitely lead to personal favorite blends.
Chili Jam is the Jam
Chili jam is a delicious treat that celebrates the very complimentary relationship between sweet and spicy. It can be used on sandwiches or served up in a little pot on a cheese plate and is a common condiment in the UK. It can be canned for long term storage and the pectin in it allows the chilies to set into a gorgeous, colorful gel that has an enticing mouthfeel and beautiful visual appeal.
When it comes to hot peppers, we know that this list just scratches the surface of all of the amazing preservation techniques out there. Do you have a favorite recipe to share? Let us know in the comments!