You like it hot and you loved the idea of growing your own chillies at home. But there were so many interesting varieties, the seeds germinated well, and now you’ve got more chillies than you know what to do with. Making chilli sauce offers one way to keep your surplus chillies for winter enjoyment, but assuming that you also have more chilli sauce than you know what to do with, or don’t have the time to make it, drying chillies offers an easy alternative.
What to Do With Dried Chillies?
Just in case you’ve never tried using dried chillies before, here’s a quick rundown. You can definitely grind them up and use them as a kind of hot spice. But you can even rehydrate them and use them as you would fresh chillies. All it takes is 15 to 30 minutes of soaking in boiling water, and they’re good to go. And in case you’re wondering, they’ll be even hotter than they were before drying: lovers of red hot chilli take note!
For those who don’t like their chilli too hot, do remove the seeds before use and be a little cautious while getting used to cooking with dried chillies. As for the seeds, you can sow them in spring. Waste not, want not. If you do save seeds, keep them in a glass bottle to exclude moisture and keep them fresh until it’s time to sow them. And do remember to seal your dried chillies in a glass jar to preserve colour and flavour after drying. You’ll be glad of those hot chillies on cold winter’s days!
Let’s get Started!
Before you begin, wash and inspect the fruits carefully. If they’re damaged or starting to rot, they might affect all the others in your batch. Most chilli varieties are easy enough to dry, but the smaller ones are best of all.
1. Two Ways to Air-Dry Chillies
To air-dry chillies, you need a light, airy, warm, and above all, dry spot for the process. If it’s humid or wet, there’s a greater chance of rot. Remember that your chillies are giving off water while drying, so don’t let them touch each other. The easiest way is to spread them on a dry sheet of paper. I do my chilli drying this way, but I’ve got the ideal spot on a sunny, glassed-in veranda. I turn the chillies once a day, and they dry beautifully. But you may not be as lucky or have time to spend turning chillies – and you may have way too many to use this method. Don’t despair!
Your next option is to string them up on a length of thread. You can easily space them out so that they won’t touch, and since they aren’t lying on a surface, they won’t need turning. Pick the right spot, and they’ll be dry within about a week. Don’t leave them hanging up for too long or they’ll lose colour and flavour.
2. Dry Them in The Oven or Microwave
If you would prefer to get your chilli drying over fast and aren’t confident about having the right spot to air-dry them, your trusty oven can do the job for you. The trick is to keep the heat low and keep turning them. You’re not cooking them, just drying. So if they show signs of cooking, you need to cool things down to get good results. However, do be careful! The hot chillies will give off some equally hot gas – opening the oven can become a matter of pinching your eyes closed, opening and getting out till the aromas have dissipated!
There are sources that say you can use a microwave too. I’ve never tried this method, but it certainly sounds as though it can work. In this instance, run the microwave on high for 10 to 15 seconds at a time with 10 to 15 seconds in between. I’m not sure if the seeds will still grow after this treatment, but the chillies should certainly dry.
3. Use a Dehydrator
If you already own a dehydrator, using it to dry your chillies is an easy option. Set it to about 60 degrees and go ahead as normal. By the way, keen veggie gardeners might do well to invest in one of these. Dehydrated food stores well and it’s a great way to save some of your garden surplus.
4. Make Chilli Salt
Ground, dried chillies can easily be turned into chilli powder, but we really like the idea of making chilli salt, and we’re going to try it! According to the recipe, you just roughly chop the chillies in a food processor – you want it a bit chunky to mix well with the salt. Now, mix them up with salt and keep the mixture in an airtight jar. If you haven’t used enough salt, you’ll see liquid at the bottom of the jar. Add more salt to get the balance right. The salt is soaking up a lot of flavour, and our source says it’s yummy for both cooking or even as a hot table condiment. Have you tried this method? Do let us know how it worked for you!
Dry or Make Sauce? Which is Better
A basic chilli sauce made with chillies and vinegar as primary ingredients can literally keep for years in a sealed bottle – even if it’s not left in the fridge, but beware of chilli sauce recipes containing additional ingredients – they may need to be refrigerated to prevent the sauce from going bad. As for which of these two options is better, it all depends on how much time you have and how you like to eat your chillies. I love chilli sauce, but I often don’t have the time to do all the cooking and bottling. My primitive air-drying method works for me, so I stick with it once I’ve made as much sauce as I feel equal to.