CROPSHARE #3: Chillies
Chili peppers, or chillies are fruits of Capsicum pepper plants, known for their pungency. They originate in Central and South America, where they have been in cultivation for thousands of years, as food and as medicine. They are members of a nightshade family, just like peppers, tomatoes, potatoes. Their spiciness comes from a bioactive substance called capsaicin. The level of heat differs depending on a chilli variety as well as growing conditions. Water-deprived chillies have an increased amounts of capsaicin. So it’s a good idea to always taste and adjust the amount of chillies you use. Interestingly, it’s only the mammals that have sensitivity to capsaicin in chillies. It binds with pain receptors in the mouth and the throat sending pain signals to the brain. The hotter chillies, the more capsaicin it has. The hottest ones are habanero, Scotch bonnet and jalapeño.
Chillies can be used whole or dried and then ground into a powder and then used as a seasoning. They are used to spice up soups, stews, salads, added to pickles and ferments. The leaves of chillies are also edible and are cooked as greens, added to soups or even kimchi.
Chillies have anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory properties as well as are a source of antioxidants. Red chillis are a source of vitamin C.
When preparing chillies for cooking, take care, as capsaicin which is mostly found in seeds and fleshy white membranes, can cause a burning sensation to your skin. Wear gloves, or wash your hands, your knife and your chopping board right away.
Fermented Chilli sauce
A ceramic weight or zip lock bag
To begin, find a jar that will fit all of the chillies and enough room to apply weight to keep them submerged. Sterilise the jar and allow it to cool.
Next wash, de-stem and half the chillies. Gloves are recommended at this point. For a sauce a little less spiced you can remove the seeds at this point.
Now place the jar on the scales and tare it back to zero. Add your chillies to the jar and place it back on the scales, we now have the weight of chillies. Top up with enough water to submerge the chillies and jot the total weight down. In my case I had 150g of chillies and then added 710g of water bringing the total weight to 870g.
We now need to work out the salt ratio. The general rule is for the total weight, we want to use 2% of salt. After a quick google 2% of 870g equaled 17.4, therefore I used 17g of salt.
To add the salt, pour the water back out of the jar into a bowl, mix in the salt and dissolve, now add back to the jar of chillies.
Add your weight to keep the chilleis submerged and place the lid on top, but do not screw it on to tightly. Leave your jar out of direct sunlight, I usually cover mine with a tea towel. You will need to check your chillies everyday and remove the lid (known as burping) to release air. The mixture will become cloudy, and you should see some bubbles in the water, this means that fermentation is happening!
We will leave the jar for 7 days.
To make the sauce, first sterilise some more jars, this mix should make about 200g. Carefully remove the chillies but reserve the water (brine).
Add the chillies to the blender and purée. We will now loosen it by adding equal parts brine and vinegar and also some agave. For 150g of chillies I used 40ml of brine and 40ml of cider vinegar. To increase saltiness add a little more brine, to increase the acidity add more vinegar.
Your sauce is now finished, and can be stored in a jar and placed in the fridge. I recommend leaving it a day or 2 as the flavour will continue to develop.
This sauce can be spooned over tacos, added to salsas and stews or enjoyed in sandwiches!