Hunan Salt-Pickled Chopped Chilli Peppers, or Accidental Erős Pista

fermchppMy busiest pickling and preserving period hasn’t arrived yet, but these effortless salt pickles can be prepared practically at any time of the year. I found this recipe in The Revolutionary Chinese Cookery Book by Fuchsia Dunlop, which covers the cuisine of Hunan province (I have already mentioned this book while presenting Cucumber Fried with Perilla). At my first reading I quickly realised that salt-pickled chilli peppers are one of the staple condiments, crucial to obtain authentic regional flavours. They can apparently be bought in Asian grocery shops, but when I saw how easy the recipe was, I opened the fridge, took some fresh chilli peppers and simply made it. The method is ridiculously simple, though  they are ready only after two weeks. The amazing flavour and inebriating aroma obtained with home-made fermentation are definitely worth this relatively short waiting period.

All you need here are two ingredients: fresh chilli peppers and salt. You chop the chillies, combine them with salt and… wait. It’s as simple as that. The chillies ferment for about two weeks and then keep fresh in the fridge for long months (I suspect them of keeping fresh even for a year in the fridge, but I have to test this assumption first).

After my introduction you might think it’s a typically Chinese preserve… I did too, so imagine my surprise when, after two weeks of fermentation, I opened the jar and the content smelled… like a better version of Erős Pista! If this name (approximate pron. eroosh pishta) doesn’t ring a bell, it’s a very popular Hungarian salt-pickled chilli paste, which translates into a very funny name: “Strong Stevie”. If it wasn’t for the preserving agents, which are added to this commercial product, and the higher salt content of Erős Pista, the smell and taste would be exactly the same. I have already noticed a long time ago that salt-pickling is one of the most universal preserving methods, nonetheless this similarity was surprising. The only difference is that the Hungarian condiment is mixed to a rough paste while here the chillies are only chopped. In short, even if you don’t cook Asian, but are a fiery food enthusiast, try making these easy pickles and if you want to obtain Erős Pista, just mix the pickled chillies.

I haven’t cooked any Chinese recipe calling for these pickles yet, but I have already half-emptied the jar and soon will be making another batch. I put it on rice, in sandwiches, I add it to noodles, stir-fries, soups, cold sauces… Next time I prepare a Hungarian dish, I will certainly put my salt-pickled chilies on the table. They are an excellent replacement for both salt and chilli powder or chilli sauce in many dishes from all around the world. Remember to add less salt or soy sauce when using them.

I have adapted the recipe to a smaller amount of chillies and added more salt for the top layer (this way chillies will have less chances to spoil).

TIPS: After a certain time a kind of hard salt crust will form at the surface of the chillies. Grate it every time you take some chillies, but put it back on top afterwards.

If you feel that chillies are too salty for your dish, simply rinse them and dry with paper towels before use.

Preparation: minimum two weeks

Ingredients:

250 g/about 1/2 lb fresh red chilli peppers

1 tablespoon salt + at least four tablespoons to cover the chillies

Cut off the stems and chop the chillies roughly.

In a bowl combine the chilli peppers with one tablespoon salt.

Put the chillies into a glass jar, pack them tightly and cover with a layer of salt, pushing with a spoon so that they have no access to air.

Close the jar tightly and leave for at least two weeks at room temperature.

At this point they are ready to eat, but should henceforth be refrigerated.

They will keep in the fridge for several months.

37 thoughts on “Hunan Salt-Pickled Chopped Chilli Peppers, or Accidental Erős Pista

  1. A_Boleyn

    It’s a always a plus when a condiment works in the cuisine of different countries. Pickles aren’t my thing so I don’t think it’s something I would make from scratch however.

    I’m still trying to figure out another use for that broad bean I paste I bought for Mapo Dofu though I liked the dish I made very much. I see that I can stir fry it with noodles as a quick side or main dish. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. Sissi Post author

      These pickles were easier to prepare than go and buy a jar 😉 (I always have fresh chilies and salt) so I haven’t even tried…
      Maybe you could use it on grilled/fried vegetables? I love it with grilled aubergine. I also put it on top of steamed rice and find it excellent with any egg dish (scrambled, fried, omelette…). I will look for some other recipes in my book using this sauce and try to post them. The sauce keeps for quite a long time in the fridge.

  2. Eha

    Well, Sissi, you should not be surprised 🙂 ! The common saying doth state ‘there is nothing new under the sun’: so chilli in China and chiili in Hungary – why not 😉 ! But whether you are thinking of the East or the West, does it not make a difference when you make something like this at home . . . that smell and taste . . .

    1. Sissi Post author

      Especially since chili is quite new in Hungary compared to China! Oh, yes, home-made food is always the best.

  3. Amy Tong

    Yum….these Hunan Salt-Pickled Chopped Chilli Peppers sounds perfect with noodles. Can’t wait to try. I look forward to lots of pickling recipes that you will share here. 🙂

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thanks a lot, Amy. I will repost some pickles I make every year, but it’s better to wait a bit until vegetables are ripe and cheap.

  4. Kelly @ Inspired Edibles

    Sissi, your pickled red chillies look gorgeous! I just love the image and I’m so inspired by your preserving finesse. Seriously, I think I made preserves once in my life — strawberry jam with my husband for our wedding two decades ago — I could use some serious work in that department ;-). Come to think of it, these pickled peppers would be delightful with a little strawberry jam (I’ve always enjoyed the combination of heat and sweet). Love the two ingredients! ;o).

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Kelly. This is probably the easiest and laziest preserving method I know. As I have told A_Boleyn, it was easier than going and looking for it in a shop… I couldn’t live without home made sauces and pickles (I rarely use jams, so I could skip most of these, maybe apart from tangy plum jam). Have you seen my strawberry chili sauce: http://www.withaglass.com/?p=5122 ? I think you might like it.

        1. Sissi Post author

          Thank you, Kelly. I hope you can make it one day. I make it often with smokey dried chillies I found here in an American shop, but it can be prepared with any hot peppers. The taste is so surprisingly good!

  5. Helene D'souza

    No Erős Pista doesn’t ring a bell at all! No idea why the red chili paste hasn’t crossed my way yet. ok I am not a massive chilli fan but hungarian food is common in austria and chili is a must in goa. I feel your chili pickle would go well with fish curry rice here. Hopefully I get some free time soon to cook more again and maybe I ll be able to recreate your pickle.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi Helene. I’m sure this pickled chili would go even with Goan dishes. It’s quite versatile and simply hot 😉

  6. Katerina

    I can see your pickling project is up and mighty Sissi! I haven’t pickled any fish yet but I will find and send you a good recipe to see how we pickle small fish in Greece. I also have to send you the recipe for taramosalata. I haven’t forgotten. I will do this too! Your pickled red chillies are beautiful!

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, Katerina. I once posted vinegar pickled fish recipe (my mum’s) and I love it, so I’m looking forward to read about your Greek pickled fish! Don’t worry! I still have my old taramosalata recipe, but I’m very curious of your mum’s of course!

  7. Nami | Just One Cookbook

    VERY interesting! Just two ingredients and my husband loves chilies and pickles. I don’t think I’ve heard of this before. Maybe my husband knows. I see him putting chilies into noodles at a restaurant and wonder if he can use this at home. He’s on con call but as soon as he’s done, I’m going to ask. 😀

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, Nami. Yes, it’s just two ingredients and the easiest preserve I know. I’m sure your husband would love it since he likes hot food. This goes with any dish really.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you, Nipponnin. Yes, it is very spicy, but of course everything depends on the chilli variety we use. It’s a very easy pickling way, so I hope you might try it.

  8. Kiki

    Very nice, reminds me on Sambal oelek. Ah and yes, salt pickling is maybe the most reinvented preserving method under the sun (besides drying..).

  9. Eva

    I have a jar in my pantry, and ashamedly I use it so infrequently because I do find it too salty! I love the colour of this dish and I know exactly what you mean about using the right ingredients to build flavour; Asian cooking is famous for that, the long list of ingredients make the dish special and missing one will change the dish completely. Does the pickling with salt reduce the heat at all?

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi, Eva. I only use it when I can combine fiery seasoning and salt (then I don’t use salt). I must start cooking real Hunan recipes with these pickled chilies as soon as possible. They don’t seem to lose any heat and luckily: they are supposed to be a hot seasoning after all. Whole vinegar pickled chilies do lose some of their heat (vinegar gets it!) but they are also intended to be served separately, as one of side dishes or pickled snacks, so it’s better this way.

  10. Charles

    Oh, so I wonder if that’s what they put on the table in Chinese restaurants here as a condiment? I don’t mind spicy food… not “blow your head off” spicy, but heat is fine, but the chilli looks angry, and red, and pretty brutal so I’ve never tried it before. Do you find the fermentation takes the edge off the heat? I’ve not heard of either of the dishes… the Chinese one or the Hungarian one before so this post is all new to me! Of course, now to just find a place nearby which actually sells red chillies 🙁 Sigh, the French and their fear of spicy food 🙁

    1. Sissi Post author

      Hi Charles, it is hot and brutal but it’s supposed to be a hot seasoning rather than pickled chillies eaten as… pickles (I prepare these with medium hot chilies, I will repost the recipe this summer once more). I don’t think that salt fermentation takes off the heat but it deepens the taste certainly. You know, sometimes I wonder if we shop food in the same country 😉 (and we do: I buy 90% of produce in France). Maybe your town is especially poor in such products, but here my farmers market (a small town) sells different kinds and colours of chillies even in the middle of the winter. The ones you see on the photo come from one of the two organic shops I regularly go to: both have been selling chillies since June (imported from Italy and now made in France too). They are both parts of chains, so I’m sure it’s not only my region. Even though most French people will not buy chilli peppers, those who have foreign origins or who are foreigners buy them regularly.

  11. mjskit

    Oh Goodie Goodie! I can’t wait until the fresh red chile peppers get to the market! I’m definitely going to be making these pickled peppers. I have a jar of lemons pickling on the countertop right now – just lemon and salt – so I know the process works. Your peppers look perfect and I do understand why you wouldn’t know how long they last in the fridge. These would go very, very fast! Thanks you SO MUCH for this recipe / process!

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you so much, MJ. I’m thrilled to learn you are a fellow salt pickler! I hope to pickle some cucumbers in brine this year (last year there was something wrong with the produce… and it spoilt instead of fermenting normally). I’m waiting for short hard cucumbers to appear on my market.

  12. mjskit

    If I can get some good cucumbers, I’ll be doing the same. When I went to visit my mother a couple of weeks ago she gave me her crispy sweet pickle recipe. The best pickles in the world! 🙂 Hopefully, we’ll both get to make pickles this year.

    1. Sissi Post author

      MJ, I prepare vinegar pickled cucumbers every year. They are less demanding in terms of freshness or growing method, so they always work. In recent years I started to prepare a kind of cucumber pickled salad (Moomin Salad) and this one is fantastic too (I often serve it just instead of a side dish). It can be prepared with any kind of cucumber, not necessarily the pickling one, which is good news because I know here only one farmer who sells pickling cucumbers…
      Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading about your pickles!

  13. Helena

    Ah, voilà cette fameuse recette 😉
    En rédigeant mon article sur le lecso, j’étais justement tombée sur la recette de l’erös pista, je n’avais jamais réalisé que c’était si simple ! Par contre j’avais déjà réalisé que c’était assez salé, comme condiment, mais bon, comme tu le dis, c’est un peu obligatoire vu que c’est une des méthodes de conservation de base. Et j’ai déjà vu la pâte dont tu parles au début dans les supérettes chinoises mais jamais acheté, du coup je n’ai jamais remarqué la similitude !
    Ta pâte présente très bien en tous cas, ça et ce que tu en dis, ça me donne envie de me lancer moi aussi.
    Si tu veux l’utiliser dans des plats chinois, je te conseillerais les plats “yuxiang” (“fish fragrant”) que j’aime beaucoup, où je sais qu’on peut aussi utiliser ce type de pâte de piment.

    1. Sissi Post author

      Merci, Helena. C’est tellement simple… et tellement bon! Pas la peine de chercher dans les magasins. Pour le côté salé, on peut rincer les morceaux juste avant de les utiliser.Merci pour le conseil. Je vois que nous lisons le même livre 😉 J’ai déjà marqué quelques recettes “fish fragrant” aussi.

  14. elisabeth@foodandthrift

    It’s really interesting how the Chinese and the Hungarian is such a similar version of this fabulous hot pickled salted peppers. I love any kind of hot peppers, especially the pickled kind, and yours is just something that I would for sure attempt to make…thanks for sharing a simple,yet amazing condiment that I would for sure keep around in the fridge to accompany certain dishes that require a little ‘kick’!

    1. Sissi Post author

      Thank you very much, Elisabeth. It’s very easy indeed and I’m glad you like the idea.

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