The best way to preserve a Chili

Published: 08th September 2008
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There are several ways of preserving chilies and my favorite has to be drying, but more of that later.

The simplest way to preserve a chili is to freeze it. One of the major problems with this is that the chili then loses its eating quality. If you eat a raw chili, and be very careful here about the strength of any chili you eat, there is a crispy crunchy texture to the chili. If you defrost a chili and try this then you will find that this crispness has gone and the texture is soggy. This may not be a problem depending on what you intend to use the chili for. If it is to cook with then there are no drawbacks to freezing and I often just cut the stalk off the chilies and put them through a food processor to make a firm paste which I then freeze in ice cube trays. Once these are frozen I can put them in a bag and take out as many as I need to cook with.

Another way is to make some chili oil. There are many recipes on the internet for this and I suggest you try one of these but they all follow similar principles. Use top quality olive oil as the base, chop your chilies, add other ingredients and gently cook your ingredients in the oil. When finished allow to cool and strain the ingredients out. Bottle the chili oil. When I make this I only make small quantities as I have read that as the oil has had other ingredients added then bacteria could develop over time. I have seen it recommended that you should not keep home made chili oil more than about one month. Just remember that the more chilies you add the stronger the heat. I one tried adding some hot home made chili oil to a salad dressing. It ruined the salad so just think about what you are going to use it for.

As I have already mentioned, my favorite way of preserving chilies has to be drying and there are a few ways of doing this, some complicated, some easy. You can dry them overnight in an oven at a very low setting but I have never done this as it just seems too complicated. As easier way, (if you have one), is to use a food dryer and set this to the time recommended by your manufacturer. For those of you who do not have a food dryer, you simply space the food out on trays and switch it on. It dehumidifies the food and removes the moisture, preserving it over time. Simple enough to use, but I do not have one and I do not fancy spending lots of money to buy one just to dry chilies.

A shopkeeper in an Asian supermarket I use once told me the best way to dry chilies is simply to wrap a bunch of chilies in newspaper, put it on the top of a cupboard and just leave them. I tried this but one of the chilies rotted and this spoiled several more. If you use this method check them regularly for chilies which are spoiling. Another method is to string the chilies and air dry. Do this by threading the chilies using a needle on to a strong thread and hanging in a warm room to dry.

Whilst both these methods work, I have also tried two more methods. One is to dry them in a muslin bag next to a radiator. This works very well but the chilies dry very fast and become hard, so hard in fact that you cannot easily cut them with a knife. This is fine if you want to grind the chilies into chili powder or flakes for cooking but they are not too good for eating.

My favorite method of drying chilies is to simply put them in a tray and dry them on a windowsill. This is near a radiator but this is not always on. The windowsill gets sun on it for about 5 hours a day, (when it is sunny). Every couple of days, I simply stir the chilies up with my fingers and this also allows me to spot any which are spoiling. I remove these. The chilies are finished when I feel they are dry enough but still feel leathery. At this stage I simply keep them in an old biscuit tin and use them as needed. One thing I do though is keep the green stalks on the end of the chilies as these help to draw the moisture out from the middle of the chili. I cut this off when using the dried chilies.

Whichever method you use just make sure that surfaces and any utensils you use are clean as you do not want to introduce any disease to your harvest. You can also start the drying process off by leaving the chilies on the plant and not watering but only do this at the end of the growing season when production of new chilies has stopped. By leaving the chilies on the plant they will start to dry out naturally. Just watch them for mould or rot though and harvest immediately this is spotted on any plant.

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