A big affection for chilli peppers combined with preserving addicition leads me every year to new experiments. Chillies rarely disappoint me and this previous summer’s discovery is no exception. Simply pickled in salted brine, these chillies developped complex flavours and an amazing aroma, proving a fantastic taste-enhancing ingredient in both Asian and Western meals.
Unlike vinegar-pickling, salted brine-pickling is probably the most international preserving method (maybe only drying beats it). Actually, when I saw, in a tv program about Sichuan food, a huge jar of salt-pickled homemade chillies, it reminded me of Polish salt-pickled cucumbers. Instead of looking for a Sichuanese recipe, I simply copied my cucumber pickling method, limiting however the seasoning to salt and garlic. The traditional Polish pickling brine consists of 3 g salt per 1 liter water. This ratio worked perfectly with chillies too. I am not sure if they are similar to pickled chillies used in Sichuan, but they taste so good, I no longer care.
In order to make sure I could “advertise” this recipe, I prepared these chillies last summer. After a week of fermenting process, I closed the jars, processed them in order to halt the fermentation and put into my pantry. They were already delicious after several weeks, but after three months my chillies developped an enticing, delicate aroma (especially compared to the harsher vinegared ones) and a very moderate acidity. They stayed crunchy and of course hot, but their strength was slightly reduced. They were also much more versatile than vinegared-pickled chillies and I believe they can be incorporated – whole or chopped – into different dishes. Since the only seasoning I used is garlic, these chillies go equally well with Western as well as Asian dishes. In short, I am doing a second batch this year and strongly encourage all my fellow chilli fans to give this preserve a try.
Here are some of my other successful experiments with chillies you might appreciate:
TIPS: You can use here any chilli variety you like. I have used red, rather medium hot chillies from Spain (the shop assistants had no clue about the variety). Remove the seeds if you don’t want to increase the hotness level.
Depending on your jar shape you can leave the chillies whole or cut them into pieces. Whole chillies will probably be even crunchier.
Remember to wear gloves while washing and handling chillies.
Salt brine pickling is ridiculously easy but since the process involves a “good” bacteria activity, the hygiene is crucial to avoid “bad” bacteria. Make sure the jars are absolutely clean, wash well the vegetables (also the garlic!) and remember that during the fermenting process all the chillies have to be thoroughly covered by the brine. Of course they will have the tendency to float, so use a cup or a saucer (also clean) or anything heavy and clean to maintain them under the brine.
I have no idea why but the best salt for pickling is supposed to be grey rock salt. I always use this type of salt for all my pickles. I’m sure any other type of salt will be ok, but if you have a choice, try grey rock salt.
If white ‘skin’ appears on the surface of the brine, throw them away. It means something goes wrong with fermentation (air access, products not clean enough, fermentation temperature too high, etc.).
Preparation: 30 minutes + four days up to one week + 15-20 minutes
1/2 kg chilli peppers
1 liter water
30 g salt
5-10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
Wash the garlic cloves and the chillies.
If you intend to pickle whole chillies, leave them as they are.
If you want smaller, ready-to-eat pieces, remove the stems and cut up the chillies into bite-sized pieces, removing as many seeds as possible (unless you want to increase the heat level).
Put the chillies and the garlic cloves into one or several clean jars.
Bring the water and salt brine to a boil.
When the brine is still warm, but no longer hot, pour over the chilli peppers, leaving about 2,5 – 3 cm (about 1 inch) empty at the top of the jar.
The chillies will have a tendency to float, so place a smaller teacup or cup into each jar (the size should be big enough to keep the chillies covered in the brine, but of course it shouldn’t drown). Make sure the brine doesn’t overflow once the teacup/cup or another object is placed to keep the chillies covered in brine.
Close the jars (not too hard, so that you can remove the lid easily).
Place the jars at room temperature, covered loosely with a lid (but don’t close them completely!).
During the fermenting process check every day if the fermenting brine doesn’t overflow.
If it does, remove some of the liquid.
After a week (or less; check after four days and if the water got “muddy” and the smell is pleasantly changed, you can stop the fermentation process), remove the teacups or cups.
If the level of the brine is very low, boil some more water with salt (the same ratio) and fill up the empty space in the jars with cold brine leaving about 2 cm empty space at the top.
Put the clean lids on the jars and close them tightly.
If you want to keep the jars for a few weeks in the fridge (or maybe more, but I haven’t checked it), skip the following steps. If you want to keep them in the pantry for several months at least, process them as follows.
Place the cool jars into a big pan, bottom lined with an old kitchen towel folded in two (this will prevent the jars from breaking), cover up with hot – but not boiling- water to the level just below the lid. Bring to boil and keep on a very low heat, in simmering water, for around 20 minutes if the jars have a 500 ml capacity (about 2 cups). If you use smaller jars (half this size), process for 15 minutes.
Stick on self-adhesive labels, write the name of the pickle and don’t forget to mark the date.
Wait at least a couple of weeks before opening the jars. As do most pickles, this one improves with time.