I’m sure some people believe it’s ridiculous to think about ways to preserve jalapeños and other hot peppers. Why wouldn’t you just eat them fresh? Add jalapeños to your pizza. Use habaneros in your fresh salsa. Get that awesome curry heated up with some Thai hot peppers.
Let’s be real, though. A few different pepper plants, and you could easily have several hundred peppers. I’m all for some spice in my food, but it is beyond my capabilities to eat that many peppers before they go bad just sitting around. Luckily, peppers are pretty easy to preserve, and preserved peppers can also add a lovely aesthetic to your kitchen. What’s better than a shelf full of gorgeously deep red, brilliant green, and peppy orange and yellow peppers? Ready to get spicy?
5 Ways to preserve jalapeños, habaneros, serranos, and all your favorite hot peppers
1. Dry them. The first time I dried hot peppers was mostly by accident. I had a surplus and thought it would look nice to tie the stems together and hang them from a hook in the kitchen until I needed them. I didn’t go through them as quickly as I anticipated, and before long, I had a lovely batch of dried peppers. I’ve since learned that they do retain their flavor a bit more if you blanch them first. But that’s a personal preference.
2. Freeze them. This is also one of the easiest ways to preserve jalapeños or your other favorite peppers. Rinse and dry them, slice or dice them, and spread them on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Place the entire tray into the freezer. Once they’re frozen, you can store them in a freezer bag. A word of warning, though. Thaw the peppers before you cook them. Otherwise, all that frozen moisture that has absorbed pepper juices evaporates and gets into the air. Don’t ask how I know this.
3. Pickle your peppers. Aside from the fact that you can legitimately “pack a pint of pickled peppers,” pickling is a great way to preserve jalapenos as is, or as part of a spicy pickle mix. Your choice. Slice the peppers in half, blanch them for two minutes, and then pickle them as you would cucumbers or any other vegetable.
4. Make red pepper flakes. To be fair, you don’t need to stick to red peppers for this. Dry your peppers, then crush them. Bam! You’ve got an excellent condiment for pizza, pasta, or any other food that could use a bit of spice. You can slow-dry your peppers or speed up the process by baking them in the oven at the lowest possible temperature for an hour or two. Once they cool, place them in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to crush the dried peppers. You can use a spice grinder or coffee grinder for this, but do so at your own risk, with all your windows open, fans blowing out, and a damp bandana over your mouth and nose. Oh… and some swimming goggles.
5. Make hot sauce. Some hot sauce recipes keep longer than others, and there are about 2,456,972* different recipes out there. But it can be a great way to preserve jalapeños and other peppers.
(*could be the actual number, but probably not)
How to safely handle hot peppers
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of rubbing your eyes after you’ve handled hot peppers, you know why I had to include this section. If you haven’t enjoyed that particular sensation, well, you aren’t missing out.
Here are a few ways to preserve jalapeños and other peppers without making yourself regret it. First, understand that the more intact you keep your peppers, you can generally expect less of the capsaicin (the compound that gives peppers their heat) to get onto your skin or in the air. It goes to follow that the more you slice, dice, grind, or otherwise disassemble your peppers, the more chance there is of getting that capsaicin on your hands or in your eyes.
One way to prevent irritation from this is to wear disposable gloves. Safety glasses can help prevent airborne capsaicin from getting into your eyes. And a damp bandana around your mouth and nose will help you avoid inhaling it. It’s also helpful to have your windows open if possible.
If you do get capsaicin in your eyes, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, then dip a paper towel into milk. Blot the paper towel around your eye. If you’re able, try to get a few drops of milk into your eye, that will help, too.
What if you inhale pepper fumes? Some people have suggested that eating a banana will help, but your best bet is to get to fresh air as quickly as possible.
What about you? Do you have a favorite way to preserve jalapeños and other homegrown peppers? I’d love to read your ideas in the comments.