Home Grown & Dried Peppers
My brother in Texas just sent me a glorious box of home grown chile peppers. Every year, he and his wife grow and dry a wide variety of hot peppers to use in all manner of tempting food. In fact, you might want to check out his cookery blog (see below) for some ideas. (He cooks meat, which I don’t, so carnivores will especially like his recipes, though he does vegetarian as well.)
Eben’s care package contained dried jalapenos, both plain and home smoked, which process makes them chipotle peppers. He also sent some serrano chiles, which are my favorites for full bodied flavor and fairly mild heat. Finally, he included a bag of the famous New Mexican Hatch chiles, which are also fairly hot by my standards. (Though not by Eben’s, who enjoys the firecracker types.)
How To Dry Peppers
When you grow your own peppers, you can revel in a wild range of colors, shapes and sizes, not to mention a terrific variety of flavors. Sweet peppers dry as well as the hotties, though the big bells tale longer than slim little jalapenos. Dried chiles have intense flavor, and I prefer to use them as flakes or ground to a coarse powder. For this, I use a (retired) coffee grinder which does a splendid job of pulverizing peppers. Store ground peppers in tightly sealed glass jars out of direct sunlight (a dim cupboard is best). Choose peppers with care, reserving any that have soft spots or seem funky for fresh use. Wash each pepper and dry well.
Always use gloves when handling fresh chiles, avoid touching yourself ANYWHERE, and keep some antihistamine (such as Benedryl) on hand in case of accidents. Always work in a well ventilated space. When using a vegetable dehydrator, keep a vent fan running to avoid getting those volatile pepper oils in your eyes, nose, or throat (no fun at all, I promise you).
To Stem Or Not To Stem
Some folks swear by stemming (removing pepper stems) while others say it does not matter. My brother leaves his pepper stems on and his results are terrific, so you choose. Some folks also slice chiles into rings or strips, while others leave them whole. Whole dried peppers do seem to retain more power and punch than cut ones, but again, you choose.
Why A Dehydrator?
You can air dry fresh chiles (better in Texas than Washington State), and you can also dry them on rimmed baking sheets (on parchment paper) in a low, slow oven. However, I find a dehydrator does the best job on drying all fruits and vegetables. Choose a dehydrator with a fan that circulates air constantly (try it first to see how loud the fan is while running).
Place your chiles on the racks, alternating stem ends and leaving plenty of room between them. Set the dehydrator at a low temperature (around 140 degrees F is good). Turn them over (use tongs) after 4 hours to make sure they dry evenly. Most will be done within 8-10 hours, though larger ones may need 12 hours.
Storing Dried Peppers
Store dried peppers in heavy-duty plastic bags or tightly sealed glass containers to keep them dry. Add a small sachet of 1 tablespoon dried milk powder wrapped in a paper towel to absorb any moisture that might get in as you use the peppers. Properly stored dried chiles and other peppers can last up to several years.
Visit my brother’s cooker blog at: