A Cook’s Guide to Choosing and Preparing Your Chillies

If there was one ingredient that is synonymous with Asian food, that would be the chilli. Specifically, the bird’s eye chilli. They are usually cheap and one of the easier food ingredient to grow in your backyard. As it is with any ingredient, choosing the best quality chilli makes a big impact on the outcome of your food.

Finding the right chilli for your recipes shouldn’t be hard. And yet, it’s common to regularly find near expired ones. And then there are the ones that are mislabelled, and the ones that have been sitting on the shelves for, well, we don’t want to know how long. So, we thought it was time to clear up the confusion and set the record straight on all things chilli, once and for all.

 

Fresh vs. dried chillies

Think of it as the difference between a grape and a raisin. The fresh chilli is generally meaty and thick-skinned, with a quick burn (the heat hits you more quickly and can be more intense). Fresh green chillies are grassy, herbaceous, and less sweet than fresh red chilli.

Dried chillies are generally picked and dried when they are red and fully ripe, so they tend to be more complex in flavour — fruitier, sweeter, and more floral. Green chilli will go black when dried, while red chilli will dry a dark brick red in colour.

 

How to shop for chillies

  • Fresh chilli should be bright, firm, and crisp (think bell peppers). As they sit on the market shelf, they will start to get soft, and start to wrinkle and discolour. Keep in mind, when choosing, that green chillies are not fully ripened and thus lack the complexity and depth of flavour of red chilli. As the chilli ripen (and turn red), the natural sugars and acids fully develop—think about the difference in flavour of a green tomato versus a vine-ripened red tomato.
  • Look for dried chilli that are soft, pliable, and deeply coloured (brick reds, mahogany, and black). They should be fragrant, and should feel like a raisin or prune—firm but fleshy. If you find chilli that are dry, dusty, or brittle, they are probably old and will have little flavour. Leave that store immediately!
  • Make sure that you store your dried chilli in an airtight container or a resealable plastic bag like Ziploc. For extended storage, freeze in airtight containers or freezer bags, and let the chilli come to room temperature before using, about one hour.

 

How to prepare

  • Make rings by slicing across the whole chilli with a sharp knife.
  • To cut into fine shreds, slice the green top off the chilli, then remove the seeds with a knife or teaspoon. Keep the chilli skin-side down and slice lengthways into thin shreds.
  • To cut into fine dice, cut the shreds across into even cubes.
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