Bold and robust flavour
The spice profile of Chettinad cuisine is nothing short of remarkable. It’s a carefully orchestrated blend of spices that elevates each dish to a level of culinary artistry. Coriander seeds infuse a warm and citrusy note, fennel seeds impart a subtle sweetness, cumin seeds contribute earthiness, while black peppercorns provide a fiery kick. This spice quartet is complemented by a symphony of aromatic elements, where star anise adds a hint of licorice-like sweetness, green cardamom pods introduce a floral and slightly smoky undertone, cinnamon sticks lend warmth, and cloves bring a pungent and sweet-spicy flavor. The careful balance of these spices ensures that the dishes are not just spicy but also imbued with layers of complexity and depth, making every bite an adventure in taste.
Moreover, Chettinad cuisine’s distinctive character comes from its unabashed embrace of heat. The generous use of dried red chillies in various forms, combined with the peppery bite of black peppercorns, ensures that the dishes are fiery and invigorating. However, this spiciness is not mere heat; it’s a vibrant and vital component of the cuisine’s identity.
Coconut, in its various forms, adds yet another dimension to the richness of Chettinad cuisine. Grated coconut provides a subtle nuttiness and sweetness, while coconut milk imparts a luscious and velvety texture to gravies and curries. Ground coconut masalas, often used in Chettinad cooking, create a creamy base that not only balances the heat but also elevates the overall indulgence of the dishes. This careful incorporation of coconut adds a luxurious and comforting element to our Chettinad chicken curry recipe , will make it an irresistible indulgence that will be irresistible to your family and friends. They will be begging you to make more. Read more
Using your harvest
As Chillies ripen swiftly across the United Kingdom, you might soon find yourself facing an abundance of these fiery gems. It’s time to ponder their fate. As the seasons shift and your garden or local market bursts forth with these vibrant, fiery wonders, you may be contemplating how to maximize this bountiful harvest.
The allure of Chillies extends beyond their vibrant colours and spicy charisma; it lies in their transformative power, turning ordinary dishes into extraordinary culinary creations. They are the dynamic ingredient capable of elevating a bland meal to a taste sensation, and a chilly evening into a warm and spicy adventure.
Chillies are more than mere food; they represent a cultural phenomenon that spans the globe, from the fiery curries of India to the zesty salsas of Mexico. Whether you relish their fiery heat, savour the nuanced flavours they impart, or simply admire their vibrant hues, one thing remains undeniable: Chillies are a culinary treasure worth preserving.
In this comprehensive guide, we embark on a journey to unlock the art of preserving Chillies, ensuring that you have this versatile ingredient at your fingertips throughout the year. From drying and freezing to pickling and infusing, we’ve assembled a diverse array of techniques to help you relish the zestful essence of Chillies long after the harvest season has waned.
Pickling this years Chilli crop
Today I made some pickled Chillies with a variety of Chillies that I harvested as part of this year’s Chilli crop. It is a good way of preserving Chillies and was extremely easy to do. Having done this, besides pickling Chillies it now means that out of this years harvest I have been able to make Chilli powder, fermented Chillies and will shortly making hot sauce. I have also frozen quite a few.
All that I needed for the pickling was the Chillies, some vinegar, water, sugar, salt, spices and the mason jars that I used to do the pickling. I also needed a pot , a cutting board and a sharp knife.
Once I had all of these together , the first step in the pickling process was to sterilise the jars. I did this by washing them in warm soapy water and then rinsing them in fresh warm water, I then let them air dry.
Once this had been done, I placed them in an oven that I had preheated to 100 hundred degrees Celsius for ten minutes. This will have killed off any harmful bacteria. In addition to this, the use of vinegar in the pickling process helps to keep the Chillies free from air borne bacteria like Botulism. The acidity in vinegar deters the growth of Botulism spores which otherwise might have been a problem; as Chillies are not acidic in themselves
The next step was to remove the stalks from the three hundred grams of mixed Chillies I was using I then sliced them in half and packed them tightly into two mason jars. One jar is 500 millilitres and the other 350. In both instances the jars were filled to eighty percent of their total volume. I did this because it is essential that the Chillies are completely submerged in vinegar to prevent spoilage The only thing that was then needed was to make the pickling solution
Fermented Chilli sauce
Last weekend I started making fermented Chilli sauce with part of my harvest of Aji Habaneros and Bishops Crowns. The Chillies are now starting to ferment, and I am now starting to see carbon – dioxide bubbles floating up from the fermentation brine. It has taken about three days to reach this point. In another four to five days the sauces will be ready, and I will then blitz them into a Chilli sauce.
Fermentation is a great way to preserve Chillies, whether making a hot sauce or Chilli pickles. It is a method that has been used for thousands of years and was certainly being done before canning and bottling was invented.Recently, there has been renewed interest in this ancient form of preservation. This is because people have realised that the end- product tastes great and is also really healthy. What’s more, it’s easy to do
The basic principle behind fermentation is that you allow the Chillies to ferment in a brine solution of about five percent salt in water. The fermentation process results in acetic acid being produced which serves to preserve the Chillies but also give them a pleasant sour taste. Once they have been preserved in this way, they can be kept either whole in the brine or alternatively the brine gets drained and the Chillies then get blended into a sauce.
How to freeze Chillies
The end of the Chilli growing season for 2022 is fast approaching. If your Chillies are ripe or at least a mature green, now is the time to pick them. If you have a big harvest , besides drying Chillies, pickling them or turning them into hot sauces, relishes, jams or chutneys, a great way of preserving Chillis to freeze them. Alternatively, it might be better to bring them in doors as if the first frost arrives. Otherwise, you will have to throw them away. They will become mushy, and they will not be able to be stored
Freezing Chillies can be done in two ways. The first method is to freeze them with their stalks intact; the second is to chop them finely and place them in ice trays. When freezing in ice- trays fill the individual cavities as much as possible and then fill the cavity with a little water. Once the trays have been frozen, remove the Chilli cubes and place them in a resealable plastic bag and place them in your freezer. Then when cooking, it simply becomes a matter of removing a cube from the bag and popping it into whatever ever you are making.
When freezing them whole place the Chillies in resealable bag and remove as much air as possible before resealing the bag . Once they have been frozen whole they can be chopped into pieces and added into food. They can also be grated while still frozen into any dish you are preparing.
We are now at the stage in the season, where most of us harvest our Chillies. It is the time of year when we need to decide how we will use them. We can make pickles, jams, relishes, Chilli oils, and Chilli sauces. Alternatively, we can preserve them either by freezing or drying
Drying Chillies is a particularly good way to preserve Chillies. This can be done in a dehydrator or alternatively in an oven. Electric dehydrators are a particularly good way to dry Chillies. A dehydrator can be purchased relatively inexpensively online for between £50 and £60. They generally consist of a dehydrating unit, which has a fan, and multi-tier drying trays with metal or plastic mesh bases, which are used to dehydrate Chillies
To use this type of dehydrator, simply place whole Chillies in dehydrating trays on top of the dehydrator and place the lid on. Set the temperature to about sixty degrees Celsius, and turn on the dehydrator. After between eight and twelve hours, the Chillies will be dry. Remove them from the tray and pack them into airtight jars for later use.
There are more expensive dehydrators that can be used to dry Chillles. They resemble mini ovens, complete with thermostats, drying shelves and a glass door. They are however somewhat more expensive and cost anywhere from £200 or more
A soldier’s best friend
In my previous post on this subject, I mentioned that members of the Armed Forces are great fans of hot sauces. So much so, they even take them on twenty-four-hour combat missions as a standard part of their operational ration packs.
If hot sauces are so important that soldiers take them into combat, just imagine where else they are used. Hot sauce goes on everything from the eggy, cheesy, hammy, bread on submarines to the breakfast fried eggs in an army mess hall. It is almost certainly used in the cuisine enjoyed by officers. Hot sauce is a soldier’s best friend
Where it is easy to find hot sauces back in the United Kingdom nowadays, but this was not always the case. Often when soldiers returned from overseas tours of duty, they would soon discover the hot sauces they had come to love in other parts of the world were hard to find. It wasn’t that they couldn’t get their hands on Tabasco® or Lingham’s Chilli sauce (see note). These sauces had already been in the UK for a long time, and were already national favourites. It was more a matter of trying to find the types of sauces they had enjoyed overseas. These sauces were far different to the ones back home.
It is likely the only way to get around this was to grow Chillies and make their own hot sauces. However, this solution was not that easy to achieve. Seeds for Chillies were not that easy to find, and not all soldiers were gardeners (or cooks for that matter). Sadly, this meant they had to go without their favourite sauce. It was a crazy situation, you needed hot sauce, but couldn’t buy it for love nor money.
When did it start?
Slow cooking dates back to the start of organised society. People living in towns would cook their bread in a shared central wood burning oven situated in the town centre. At the end of the day once all the bread had been cooked, the oven would still be really hot. While it was cooling down, the townsfolk would place their cooking pots into the oven. They would allow their food to cook slowly overnight. The next day, the food would be fully cooked, tender, and full of flavour.
The slow cooking used by the Greeks to make Kleftiko has a similar history. The story goes that when thieves stole a lamb, they would dig a hole and build a fire with lots of wooden logs. Once the logs had burned down, they would place the lamb on top of the smouldering embers, cover the hole with soil and seal it with mud. They did as a way of preventing the smell of their cooking, leading pursuers to where they were. Once the threat of capture had diminished, they would return to remove the lamb, which now had become succulently cooked and tender from the underground oven.
The Taino and escaped slaves (Maroons) in the Caribbean used the same method of cooking to prevent being captured. They would bury wild hogs they had caught in underground ovens. Before so they would cover the hog with salt, wild herbs and spices like pimento and Chillies and then wrap them in leaves. Doing this added great spicy flavour to the meat while it cooked and keep humidity constant while the meat was cooking. This style of cooking led to what has become known today as jerking meat (as for example in Jerk Chicken and Jerk pork)
Chillies and cheese
Bhutan is a country that loves its Chillies. Indeed, the average family in this small landlocked country between India and China eats more than a kilogram of Chillies per week. Just about every dish they prepare has Chillies of some form or the other in it. Because Chillies in Bhutan are seen more as a vegetable than a spice, the typical type of Chilli used in this cooking is not exceptionally hot. They fall into a mild to medium heat range. These include Chillies like the Sha Ema, Baegop Ema, Ema Mapa, Super Solu, Yangtsepa Ema and the Urka Bangla Chilli
But that is not to say that the Chillies they eat are not hot. One of the hottest The Dalle Khursani or Jyanmaara Khursani carries two names for good reason. It has the name of Dalle Khursani (which translates to round ball) because this describes the shape of these Chillies. The Chillies second name of Jyanmaara Khursani translates to “Lifetaker” Chillies. It carries this name because it is extremely hot, with a Scoville rating of 100000 to 350000 Shu
While Bhutan has many dishes that contain Chillies, Ema Datchi (Bhutan’s national dish), is a Chilli stew made with cheese and Chillies. Ema means Chilli, and the Datshi part of the name refers to the type of cheese used to make the dish. Datshi is a type of cheese made using female yak or cow’s milk. The cheese is similar in appearance to ricotta, and its flavour is somewhere between feta and Gruyere cheese
Bhutan’s national dish intrigues me so much that I have decided to make it. Of course, it is unlikely that I will find the exact Chillies they use in Bhutan or Datshi cheese to make this dish, so I will have to make substitutions. However, I am relatively sure I will get close. It is certainly worth a bash
Closer than you think
Not many people will know that Chillies and spuds have a lot in common. Not only will you find them together in some of the world’s finest cooking, but they both originally come from the same part of the world and also belong to the same biological family.
Both Chillies and potatoes originated in a region that shares modern-day southern Peru, and the extreme north-western part of Bolivia. If that’s not amazing enough, consider this. They both belong to the Solanaceae family, a classification they share with aubergines, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.
That in itself is intriguing, but what is even more fascinating is that both Chillies and spuds were among the first-ever domesticated vegetables in Peru. They were cultivated there as early as 10000 years ago. This means they have been found together in cooking for thousands of years
Archaeologically verified evidence dating back to 2500 BC was found in a coastal site in Ancón, Central Peru, that potatoes were already being eaten at that time. The earliest archaeological evidence of Chillies being consumed was found in the Guitarrero Cave in Peru. This evidence links Chillies being eaten as early as 8,500 BCE. This is not to say that Chillies were cultivated before potatoes . It is simply that potatoes’ do not preserve well. This has made finding earlier proof of their use for archaeological purposes more difficult
Today, it is difficult to imagine cooking without Chilles or spuds, but there was a time (not so long ago) when they were unknown outside of South America. It took Christopher Columbus to bring the first Chillies back the old world in 1492, after he found them in the West Indies. It would take another fifty-eight years before spuds appeared on the scene.