My 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
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.