Cooking with Dried Chillies
Dried chillies are truly amazing; as they dry, they develop complex flavours that are just not there in the fresh fruit, for example, the Aji Limon has strong citrus flavours when fresh, and develops tropical fruit flavours as it dries some say it smells and tastes like dried banana.
Mexican cooking makes extensive use of dried chillies, mainly in the preparation of cooking sauces, and often the recipe will call for several types and may also list fresh chillies as well to add to the depth of flavour.
Dried chillies are best kept whole for storage just like keeping spices whole until you need them. Broken, flaked or powdered chillies will lose their flavourful essential oil more rapidly than dried fruits that are still intact. For comfort reasons, you may opt to buy the hotter chillies as a ready-ground powder.
Try to find ‘fresh’ dried chillies avoid dusty, broken, mouldy, spotty, dull, patchy looking chillies and chillies with little aroma or an unpleasant aroma these can be signs of over-long storage, disease or a poor drying process; most types of dried chillies should also still be supple. At the South Devon Chilli Farm, we dry chillies with a low heat to avoid cooking/burning the chillies this helps develop the best flavours and also means we preserve all the vivid colours of the fresh pods.
Storage of dried chilles.
Store all dried chillies (whole and powder) in an airtight container and in a dry, cool and dark place. Although you can keep them for years, it is best to use them within six months. Check them for spoilage and lose of flavour before use.
Handling Dried Chillies.
When handling dried chillies, particularly the hotter ones, it is a good idea to wear gloves. For the really hot ones, like the Bhut Jolokia, is it not overkill to wear goggles and a mask as well (see our chilli handling kit)! Hot chillies can produce a strong vapour when soaked in hot water and will travel through the air when reduced to a fine powder
When using whole dried chillies in a recipe, they can either be chopped or powdered and left to rehydrated as they cook-in, or rehydrated and processed before being added. Certain recipes may also call for the chillies to be toasted before rehydrating to add new flavour tones.
Grinding whole dried chillies.
We recommend a small coffee grinder that you can reserve for chilli and spice grinding. You can use these to make flakes or a powder. When grinding the hotter chillies to a fine powder, it is a good idea to tap the lid of the grinder and leave the dust to settle for a minute before taking the lid off; that may say you from launching powder into the air. If the chilli you are grinding to a fine powder is Bhut Jolokia, watch out a mask is a good idea! If you plan to use Bhut Jolokia as a powder, it may be best to buy powder rather than grind your own.
Roasting and rehydrating Dried Chillies.
In Mexican cooking, whole dried chillies are usually roasted and then rehydrated before being made into a paste.
Inspect the pods for damaged parts or grit/dust and tidy them up. De-stem and de-seed the pods and place in a heavy dry frying pan or in an oven set to 250°C and dry roast for three-to-four minutes shake them once or twice and watch you don’t scorch them as that would result in a bitter taste. Once roasted, place the pods in a bowl and just cover with slightly-cooled boiled water, press them down into the water and use something as a lid to hold them down such as a saucer and leave for 20 minutes.
Using the rehydrated chillies.
The Great Chile Book (see our Books page online) has a good section on dried chillies lovely pictures, descriptions of the types available and their flavours, and recipe ideas.
The ‘Chilli and Chocolate’ cook book is also filled with recipes that use dried chillies as has plenty of text on how they should be prepared.
Make a sauce.
The roasted and rehydrated chillies can then be reduced to a paste in a blender. And a little water to the blender to easy the blending use the unabsorbed soaking water if it does not taste bitter. Depending on the recipe, you may want to sieve the puree as well. Preparing roasted/rehydrated/blended/sieved paste can be time-consuming, so it may be a good idea to make more than you need and freeze the remainder for another day.
Adding as chopped chilli.
The rehydrated chillies can also be chopped or cut into strips and added to soups, stews, salads, salsas. Chopped rehydrated chillies can also be added to oil and/or vinegar and stored in the fridge for a week to added to just about anything.
Stuffing dried Chiles.
Ancho, Mulato, Pasilla, and Choricero chillies are ideal for stuffing. Select chillies that are unbroken and leave the stems on. Make a slit down the length of the chilli and shake out the seeds. Soak the chilli in slightly-cooled boiled water for 10 to 15 minutes you don’t want them to get too soft as that will make them harder to handle. Remove from the bowl of water carefully and lightly blot with kitchen paper. Use a teaspoon to fill the chilli with your stuffing ingredients they are then ready to cook (deep-fried or baked, according to the recipe you are following).
Flakes and powder.
Roasting chillies can also be handy when you want to make flakes or powder the roasting improves the flavour and renders the chillies much easier to crush in a pestle or chop in a food processor. Letting them cool after roasting will make them crisp and easier to break up. Apart from adding to a cooked recipe, flaked and dried chillies can be sprinkled on pizza and pasta or mixed with salt, sugar and herbs to make a dry-rub for meat, fish or vegetables before roasting, baking or barbequing.
How Much to use.
When we dry chillies, we check their wet-weight, and they stay in the dryer until they have reach a weight somewhere between 15% and 10% of their original weight. They retain all the heat, so, in theory, they can be 10 times hotter than the fresh chilli when compared by weight.
Dried chillies can take a little while to cook-in, and the heat you can taste may well increase as the dish cooks. Using a pre-made paste or sauce will make it easier to know when you’ve added the right amount for you taste.