Peppers, hot or not, can be dried in many ways and they store well. Removing moisture from peppers will magnify and intensify the heat, flavor, and natural sugars it contains. Dehydrated chiles pack more fiery punch and ferocity in both food and hot sauce recipes than fresh peppers. Plus, if you grind or crush dried peppers, you can use it as an all-purpose flavoring and seasoning for any occasion.
Peppers can be dried in the oven at a very low temperature. They can also be dried in the sun, in a food dehydrator, or by stringing them up in a dry place in your home. The latter is my favorite for hot peppers as it lends festive color to home decor through the late summer and fall.
Caution Capsicum, the heat producing ingredient in peppers, is an irritant. If possible, always wear gloves when handling hot peppers. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after touching hot peppers. Do not scratch your eyes, nose, face, or any other sensitive area of your body after handling. Take extra precaution around young children, pets, or anyone who is sensitive to spicy foods.
Inspect each pepper before starting the drying process. Discard peppers if they are soft, mushy, or have spoiled areas or diseased-looking spots.
Hang drying A standard sewing needle and thread is required. Start by threading the needle and making a loop in the thread. This will be the loop you hang from. Begin stringing the peppers by poking the needle and thread sideways through the green stem or cap of the pepper. Leave an inch or so between each pepper. You can make knots between each pepper to prevent the peppers from sliding on a vertical garland. If you hang them in horizontal garlands, tie a loop on the finished end as well. Hang the peppers in the kitchen or another dry and warm place. When they feel crispy they are done, usually 3 to 4 weeks. Remove from the string and store in a glass jar and keep them with your spices.
Oven drying When I have a lot of peppers to dry I use the pilot of my propane oven to dry them, which keeps a temperature of about 110 degrees. First I slice the peppers lengthwise in to 1/2 -1 inch wide pieces, and then I lay them on a cookie sheet with enough space between the peppers so that they are not touching. It takes about 3 days for them to dry at this temperature. It can be done in an electric oven as well on low heat. Check the peppers every few hours for crispness. It can take 12 hours to 4 days to completely dry depending on your oven and the size of the peppers. They should not burn at all. When the peppers have cooled, store them in glass jars and keep them with your spices.
Storage Whole dried peppers can be kept in a glass jar with a tightly sealed lid to keep the flavors strong. I have kept peppers for 4 or 5 years in this way. Ground pepper flakes can be stored in the same way but plan on using them up in a year for the best flavor.
photos: CCF staff