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The chili pepper is one family of crop that just keeps on giving. Fresh from the garden, they’re fantastic in stir-frys and salsas. But give them a little time, and their flavors turn into something else entirely. Deeper. Earthier. Spicier. Sometimes even their names change. It’s practically a Norma-Jeane-to-Marilyn metamorphosis when an unassuming green poblano becomes a fiery red chili ancho. Hubba hubba!

We put some of our backyard poblanos straight to work in dishes from black beans to chile verde, but we decided to hold a few in reserve, let them mature, and see what happens. We’re already dreaming of a rich midwinter mole, but we’ll try not to get ahead of ourselves. (Bonus: In the throes of late summer, when the pepper harvest is coming fast and thick, drying a few of these babies can help with that "what to do with hot peppers" question.)

There are a few ways to dry chilies, and we’ll touch on several below, but we’re focusing on the hang-dry approach, as it doesn’t require any special gadgetry. The following methods should work for nearly any kind of pepper; just keep in mind when hang drying that the larger your peppers and the greater number you’re aiming to dry, the heavier weight fishing line you’ll need.

And one big, flashing, neon-orange warning: If you’re dealing with peppers on the high end of the Scoville scale, for the love of Pete, please wear gloves. Maybe even goggles. These puppies are hot, and they only get more dangerous as they dry. Generally, the smaller the pepper, the more heat we’re talking. If you’re a daredevil who chooses to forgo the gloves, don’t forget to wash your hands once you’re done handling the peppers and, by all means, do not put your digits anywhere near your eyes.

 

HOW TO HANG DRY FRESH CHILIES

WHAT YOU’LL NEED

» Several fresh peppers, each with a couple of inches of stem intact

» A length of heavyweight fishing line (ideally 25 lbs or higher)

» 2 sticks (foraged from outside is fine)

» 1 large-eyed needle

WHAT TO DO

Knot one end of your fishing line around one of your sticks (see photo at right). This will act as your anchor, keeping your chilies from sliding off the line. Then thread the other end of the line through the eye of your needle, just as you would if you were getting ready to sew. Using the needle, pierce your largest pepper through the widest part of its stem (see below). Pull the needle all the way through the stem and slide the pepper down to the end of the fishing line, until it hits your anchor.

Take your next largest pepper and repeat, piercing the stem and pulling the needle and line all the way through, then sliding the pepper down the line. Continue until you’ve strung all of your peppers, largest to smallest. Knot the end of the fishing line around another stick for stability and hang in a cool, dark, and relatively humidity-free spot. You don’t have to find a desert microclimate; a pantry or cabinet will work fine; too close to a steamy dishwasher or stove is less than ideal.

We’ve just strung the batch pictured up top, so timing is TBD, but we’re thinking we’ve got weeks to wait. In the case of poblanos, the peppers will be dry when they’re thoroughly brittle and have turned from forest green to red. We think we’ll be able to tell when they’re wrinkly enough. We’ll just envision Grandpa George.

 

PLAN B: HANGING THE WHOLE KIT AND KABOODLE

If space isn’t an issue, or if you’re really lazy, you can uproot the entire plant and hang it upside down in a cool, dark space. But if you have that much extra room, give us a call. We’ve got 25 boxes of books and a rusty bike we’re looking to store.

 

PLAN C: DEHYDRATING. IN A DEHYDRATOR.

Got a dehydrator? Well, aren’t you fancy? (Seriously, we’re only snide because we’re jealous.) To dry peppers in a dehydrator, you’ll want to remove the stems—you can compost them—and spread the peppers out in a single layer on the trays. To speed the process up, you can slice the peppers in half, but then you’ll need to remove the seeds. Place halved peppers sliced-side down, toward the heating element. If you can tweak the temperature, set it to 100F, then occupy yourself for a few days, checking the machine occasionally for doneness and for safety. Presto! Dried peppers. Check out HOMEGROWN member Cynthia's blog post for a few more tips on dehydrating—and rehydrating—peppers.

 

PLAN D: BEHOLD, THE OVEN

Similar deal as above. With larger peppers, you can place entire chilies directly on the oven racks. If you slice the peppers, put the slices on baking sheets; that way the sheets will collect the seeds and you don’t have to spend time removing them or, worse, picking them off the floor of your oven. Set the oven to a low temp, 100 or 150, and, if you’ve got a conventional model, prop the door open slightly to allow air circulation. If you’ve got kids or pets, keep a close eye on the proceedings. If you’ve got a convection oven, you win! No need for door propping. Turn the peppers occasionally until they’re fully wrinkled. Again, you’re aiming for Grandpa George, but trust your own judgment. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.

 

SO, YOU’VE GOT DRIED CHILIES. NOW WHAT?

Congratulations! You’re the proud creator of dried chilies! (Seriously, though: Keep your gloves on while you celebrate.) You’ve got a few options for using these babies. For one, you can finely crush the pods and mix them with the seeds to make your own chili pepper flakes—
great for jarring and giving as gifts. Just remember: Gloves, people. And keep those mitts away from your eyeballs.

Or leave them whole and store them in air-tight jars until you’re ready to rehydrate them. Once revivified, rehydrated chilies can be used just like fresh chilies but with the added bonus of all that extra mature, R-rated flavor. To rehydrate peppers, first dust them off—especially if they’ve been hanging in a less than sterile cranny all winter long.

Cut off the stems and tops and, using a sharp knife, slice the ribs out; then empty the seeds. Place your chili in a warm skillet, no oil needed, and toast it. Your pan shouldn’t be hot enough to smoke or to burn your fingers. (Not that we recommend going around and poking hot pans: Be careful.) Flip your chili so that you toast both the outside and the inside. Then plunge the entire pepper into hot water and let it soak for 20 minutes. Take it out, pat it dry, and get to it, whatever it is: mole, tortilla soup, you name it. It will be delicious, thanks to you! (And to your gloves. Don’t forget your gloves.)

 

SPEAK UP!

How do you use your dried chilis? And where do you hang them to dry? Come on, folks: We want family secrets! Post a comment below and spread the love. You might also be interested in the Freezing, Drying, and Storing Herbs 101 and the Homemade Tortillas 101, and you might give a thought to joining the Food Preservation group. For more things to cook, preserve, plant, grow, make, craft, and dry, visit the HOMEGROWN 101 library.

 

PHOTOS: (STRUNG PEPPERS, ANCHOR, NEEDLE) JENNIFER; (FLAKES) KEVANDY, COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS ON FLICKR

 

 

Tags: chile, chili, chilli, drying, pepper, peppers

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Chili Ristras come to mind with your mention. It is a New Mexico tradition. They hang them in doorways of homes at Christmas time.  The chilies can be then dried & used for making sauce. I have not seen other chilies used other than Anaheim. Thank you for sharing this. I grow all kinds of chilies and always wanted to try other kinds on a string.

Google link on what they look like:

http://www.google.com/search?q=chili+ristra&hl=en&tbo=u&...

Tara

Hey, Tara: I love ristras! We spent a lot of summer vacations road tripping to New Mexico when I was a kid, and we often came home with a new string of chiles for my mom to hang in her kitchen. I will say that the key in drying your own is finding the *driest, least humid* spot in your house. The lack of moisture is crucial. If you try it, please let us know how it goes!

For the past several years, where I used to live in GA,  I used, the effect the greenhouse effect, produced in my car to dry peppers. After harvest, I cut the larger peppers in half, placed them on an aluminum cookie sheet, then popped them into the rear set of the car that I parked daily in full sun at a vanpool lot. Result: most peppers dried completely in no more than 3 days. Varieties included Indian finger pepper, ancho and aji amarillo. Once home and the peppers were dried, I put them in large storage jars in the pantry. I plan to do the same where I'm now living in northern Virginia.

Bill

Howdy, Bill. Your comment reminded me that a few other HOMEGROWN members were talking about dehydrating food in the car a couple of years back. Just curious: How hot was the outside temp when you did this successfully? (And thanks for the tip!)

The drying "season" ran roughly July through deep September, depending on  how mature the peppers were (I planted them usually the last week of April). So, outside temps in the morning were usually at least 65*F with afternoon temps often well into the 90s.

Bill

Jennifer said:

Howdy, Bill. Your comment reminded me that a few other HOMEGROWN members were talking about dehydrating food in the car a couple of years back. Just curious: How hot was the outside temp when you did this successfully? (And thanks for the tip!)

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