Hot peppers are a warm season crop, which we generally harvest from mid-or-late July until frost. When prepared well, hot peppers add so much more than just heat to dishes; they impart complex & delicious flavors. Eric loves really spicy dishes, while Joanna’s preferences are on the milder side, but we both adore meals flavored with hot peppers.
As with sweet peppers, hot peppers usually start green then gradually ripen to a more colorful mature fruit, usually red or orange. (In the case of Alma Paprika peppers, the “green” stage is actually pale yellow.) Flavor does change during the ripening process. Many varieties of hot pepper varieties are well suited to use either green or ripe, and members may encounter various stages of pepper maturity through the season.
HANDLING & STORAGE
Store peppers in the refrigerator. They are best used in a week or so, but they will often maintain good quality longer than that.
When cutting hot peppers, beware of skin irritation that can result from contact with the seeds & membranes! If in doubt, wear disposable gloves. The seeds and white inner membranes tend to have the most concentrated heat; remove these if you want a milder effect, or leave them in if you really like heat.
IN THE KITCHEN
Uses for hot peppers abound, but both variety and personal heat tolerance/preferences do matter. We strongly recommend the cookbook Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, which is available at our local library, for a primer on many varieties of hot peppers & how to use them.
Roasted pepper salsa:
Preheat your oven broiler, and set a rack just below it. Halve the hot and sweet peppers you’re going to use, deseed if desired, and toss with olive oil. Garlic, and halved tomatoes or onions can also be used. Arranged everything on a baking tray and roast a few minutes a side, until blistered but not blackened. Blend and add liquid and/or salt to taste. We usually don’t bother peeling the peppers, though some sources suggest this.
Cheese-stuffed peppers: We usually use anaheims, but other hot or sweet peppers can be substituted (if the heat intensity is to the eater’s liking). Slice the peppers in half, remove seeds & membranes. Broil (in an oven or toaster oven) with the cut side down until skins start to brown. Flip peppers over, stuff with cheese (such as chevre or ricotta), and return to the broiler until cheese begins to brown.
Dehydration: Dehydration is our preferred method for preserving most hot peppers. The smaller ones with relatively thin walls (such as cayennes) can simply be strung by needle & thread to hang & dry in a place with good air circulation. We use a dehydrator for larger peppers, which we usually slice in half & de-seed before spreading on the dehydrator trays. Gloves are a good idea for this job.
Freezing: We freeze habaneros whole. They preserve perfectly and are easy to cut up after a few moments’ thawing on the counter. One habanero, de-seeded, adds wonderful flavor and proper heat to many winter dishes.
Chipotles: Chipotles are smoked jalapenos. We don’t usually fire up the smoker when we have fresh jalapenos, but rather in the winter when we have fresh pork. The method that we’ve used is to first dry the jalapenos in season. When we’re smoking something else, we’ll rehydrate & smoke the jalapenos while we’re at it. Then we store these in the freezer until use.
VARIETIES WE GROW
- Anaheim NuMex Joe E Parker: Mildly hot and very versatile, good either green or ripe red. Plants tend to grow big and robust, making this a workhorse of hot pepper production for us.
- Habanero Magnum: Very hot, but with an excellent fruity flavor. Picked when fully ripe & orange. It’s a long wait to full maturity, so the season is short for these.
- Poblano/Ancho: Poblano refers to the fresh pepper; the same pepper dried is an ancho. Dark green when young, maturing to red. Low yielding but delicious.
- Serrano: New for us in 2013…more info to come once we try some ripe ones.
- Alma Paprika: A bit bigger than ping-pong sized, roundish peppers that are pale yellow in their “green” stage, ripening to red. Heat intensity may vary.
- Cayenne, Long Red: Picked when fully ripe & red. Fairly hot.
- Jalapeno: Heat intensity can be variable among peppers from fairly mild to quite spicy. Usually picked green, but occasionally allowed to ripen to mature red.