The Internet Times Supplement

What to do with lots of chilies

In Food & Drink on October 12, 2010 at 1:40 pm

One of the most visited pages on my blog is ‘How to make chili paste/sauce‘. Below I have updated some information in relation to ‘What to do with all those chilies?’ or ‘what can I do with lots of chilies’. It is not just for sauces…

When you have a lot of chilies there is normally no real time pressure on processing them although for sauce and chili paste making clearly ‘fresh is best’.

If you have not done so already, first pick your chilies… see below re this!

Remember the important thing with this whole process – PROTECT YOUR HANDS, EYES etc. Chilies contain capsaicin. This is the stuff they use in pepper sprays for law enforcement and also to defend yourself against attacking bears. Where I live, neither of these problems arise. I do however use the chili oil I collect as a natural (albeit somewhat unnatural) insect control on my plants.

First and important!!!

Picking – I usually try to leave a reasonable stalk on the chilies when picking them. Easier to handle and also good with ristras. Trim off or cut out prior to use

Pre packing/pickling/whatever, prepare a bowl (sink?) with sufficient cold salted water and rinse the chilies in this to clean them. Perform a visual inspection for dirt, bad spots, bug holes etc. A little skin wrinkling is OK/normal… then…

When first making sauces (particularly the thicker/chunkier ones. Make small batches at first. If you spoil something there is less waste and of course you do not run out of containers to store the sauce in. Note that you can make a chili sauce and freeze it. Again, freeze or jar/can small amounts. A big jar of fresh chili paste will only last a couple of weeks in the refrigerator before developing mould… use small jars for this. The finer chili sauces (more liquid) will generally last indefinitely (forever?) and, like wine, mature with age.


It is important to prevent the growth of any moulds (particularly botulism) forming in the jars. To prevent this you need to add an acidic ingredient like vinegar or lemon juice. e.g. do not try to preserve whole raw garlics (or similar) in a chili sauce as this is highly likely to allow botulism to develop due to the high liquid content – cooking sliced garlic and adding these to a chili sauce is a different matter (slightly) but it is still important to increase the acidity. In this instance it truly is a case of RTFM with regard to researching what ingredients can/should not/cannot be preserved in different ways.

1. Freeze them. Place in containers (e.g. a Philidelphia Cheese one works well. Pack loose rather than tight or they all clump together and get freezer burn or turn into a gelatinous frozen mass. Green chilies freeze better than red.

2. Make ristras of red chilies. Use either several strands of black cotton or (preferable) strong fishing line. Run needle through middle of chili and not the stalk as this will dry and possibly/probably the chili will fall off. For small chilies run the needle through the middle. For larger ones do this near to the top. Green ones do not dry well, just wrinkle/shrivel. NB: chilies dried in this way will last indefinitely. What I do is keep them for 1-2 years and use them when needed (break the chili off the string) and then grind them up for pepper flakes. Dry roasting or toasting chilies in a frying pan is good to add a ‘smoky’ flavour.

3. Pickle chilies whole. Cut stalk back to near the top of the chili. Make a slit (or two) in the chili itself. Fill jar with vinegar mix***. OR (Cherry Bombs are good for this) cut around the stalk and hollow out the chili. Fill chili with a whole peeled garlic clove***.

4. Chili sauce. I have many recipes Sweet and also incredibly hot. Thick and thin (Tabasco like – achieved by use of either cheesecloth or a tea strainer). Now the making of sauces requires a bit of practice to get things ‘right’. Even some of the professional brands have a ‘shake before using’ on them due to settling of contents or they use things like xanthan gum to suspend the particles or hide the settling with a wrapper. There are several methods/techniques I use to get the different sauces. A simple look at the commercial brands will give ideas – with/without seeds, chunky, ‘gloopy’, smooth, with bits, added as a secondary ingredient to a main one (I have just prepared several jars of pickled cucumber with a slight chili kick to it).


Vinegar mix – there are many ways to change the flavour of vinegar and also many different types of vinegars. I am not trying to explain vinegars here, simply pointing out that they are used.

Garlics – see my notes on the blog re botulism. When preserved in the manner indicated above (stuffed inside a chili) this is not really a problem as the acidity level is high.


Here is a basic ‘simple’ recipe to start off with. It makes a small amount, is quick to do, and the result is very good. Again, adjust according to taste.

  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar (or substitute white vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. white sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. sherry (or cooking sherry) – I use the local heavy wine.
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6+ medium sized fresh red chilies OR 1/2 to 1 Tbsp. dried crushed chili (1 Tbsp. makes spicy-hot sauce)
  • 1+1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch/flour dissolved in 3-4 Tbsp. cool water
  1. Place all ingredients (except the cornstarch) in a none aluminum saucepan (pref. stainless steel!). Bring to a gentle rolling boil. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon. Metal can taint the sauce due to acidity.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and let simmer (almost boil) for 10 minutes, until reduced by half. The vinegar will be quite pungent as it cooks off. Generally, I find rice vinegar lighter than regular white vinegar but a good alternative is cider vinegar. Again, experiment with what you like. Stronger flavours. The vinegar is predominantly for the preserving aspect but can be used to subtly change the flavour.
  3. Reduce heat to low and add the cornstarch-water mixture gradually to avoid clumping (this can be avoided by mixing well beforehand. Stir to incorporate and continue stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens (about 2 minutes).
  4. Remove from heat and taste-test. You should taste “sweet” first, followed by sour, then spicy and salty. If the sauce isn’t sweet enough, add a little more sugar. If not spicy enough, add more chili. Duh!!!
  5. Store sauce in a small, sterilised (boil it in water!), jar/s in the fridge. Makes an excellent marinade for grilled chicken, fish, or seafood.

Depending upon ingredients, a sauce can/will last indefinitely – the one above is not intended for long term storage as it is a fresh sauce. To preserve sauces longer, follow standard canning methods. I make thicker sauces for jars and thinner for bottling. Similarly, the amount and type of oil used can truly make a sauce – I have plenty of olive oil but peanut/soy/etc are all good. For the bottling I use old wine or cava bottles. To retain colour (or rather depth of colour) I use the green/brown/black bottles and whack in a cork when it is filled. I also use smaller clear wine bottles and make a ‘pleasing to the eye’ sauce with red and green peppers finely chopped and also fresh herbs, black pepper… also, I often add a couple of whole small chilies to the bottle (e.g. Kmini very good for this – green or red). The type of chili will also affect the sauce. The ‘JSM’ chilies ripen to a deep chocolate / dark red colour and are incredibly hot. If these are finely chopped and mashed down the colour comes out when cooked slowly in the sauce (almost like the oily appearance of a vindaloo curry in your favourite Indian/Pakistani restaurant).

To ‘bulk out’ a sauce… here is a simple method. The heat/flavour/texture (mouth feel) is something you learn about after a while. I have had sauces that have been disgusting when first made but after being left in the jar/bottle for a while can recover OR be used as the base for a newer sauce a few years later. I made one the other day using a ‘sauce’ from 2007 that was completely OTT with salt. I had kept it in a bottle under the stairs since then and worked around this when making a new sauce.

Base sauce –

Oil – small amount
Two/three medium/large onions very finely chopped.
One or two heads of garlic (note that it is not cloves of garlic). I use large garlics, peeled and minced. See below…
Four or more tomatoes and/or tomato paste.

The idea is to reduce the above ingredients down to a smoother sauce. You can do this with a hand blender to speed up the process or simply keep cooking very slowly. I use a slow cooker to assist with this as well as for the final cooking off of the sauce. I also use a ‘pok pok’ from Thailand (pestle and mortar) to grind down the ingredients for this and also subsequent ingredients in any sauces – unless I am aiming for a chunky sauce where I add more ingredients e.g. using the base sauce above I add finely chopped onion or chunky onion after I have the base sauce blended/mashed down. Similarly, you can do this with the chilies themselves – chunky, chopped, thinly sliced…

Now, to make a thicker sauce simply add something to make it thick. Sounds obvious but… flour can make a sauce to clumpy and give a strange ‘mouth feel’. I peel a large potato and cut it into fine cubes. Cooked into the sauce and blended in gives a good texture. Other methods are to use any fruit/vegetable that has a high pectin content. Apples are a good source of pectin and you can of course buy commercial pectin powders (predominantly made from apples).

Using garlic in the base sauce it is important to mince this rather than finely chop as you can get a white ‘flecking’ in the sauce otherwise. For a finer sauce remove skins from things like tomatoes and red/green peppers.

Use of other vegetables/fruits gives different textures and flavours. Want a rich orange chili sauce with a deep colour? Use carrots finely minced/grated before cooking in. Parsnips add an interesting sweetness. Deep red? Add red peppers and/or tomatoes (or paste).

NB: To preserve longer, either adjust the vinegar/salt combination (very easy to get completely wrong but all is not lost… i.e. do not throw away your failures…) or ensure jar is sealable and boil in water bath for 10-15 minutes. Set aside to cool.

5. Chili paste. Good for green or red. Make SMALL jars of this or freeze in ice cube trays, pop out and freeze in plastic bag (NB: Do this so the chili cubes are NOT clumped together or they are difficult to separate)

6. Special chili sauces/pastes. My favourite base recipe here ‘Nam Prik Pao‘ can be adjusted to suit whatever takes your fancy in the heat/savoury department. For this you can switch/replace ingredients how you will. I adjust this with ginger, more garlic, dried fish/shrimp, different vinegars/oil (e.g. cider/red/white vinegar, sesame/peanut/… oils), lemon rind… the options are endless BUT make sure you do not use an ingredient that will go ‘off’ – fresh ingredients

7. Chili jam – pears, apples, red currants… the list is long. Use red bell peppers for the big red flakes and finely adjust the heat by adding chopped chilies minus the seeds. OR use whole small chilies added towards the end of cooking.

I am experimenting with gelatine and will try to suspend some of my Kenyan Mini chilies on this in this. Also looking to use flavoured jellies. NB: this is an experiment to see what happens to the contents of the jars over an extended period. Do NOT try this yourself until I check out what happens. I suspect several mould issues and also a structural collapse of the gelatine. Plus of course it would definitely NOT be vegetarian…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s