It’s a spectacular year for chiles of all sorts. The markets have everything from sweet Italian peppers, perfect for salsa or pickle relish, to jalapenos, serranos, and incendiary Thai bird chiles.
I’ve made a few batches of hot sauce, using this brilliant Sriracha-style recipe from Food52. I use cherry bombs to make Sriracha, easier to find on the East Coast than red jalapenos, or fresnos. But you can also swap out jalapenos or cayenne, adding apple cider vinegar or malt vinegar and instead of palm sugar, try honey or maple syrup. Add mustard seed, celery seed, allspice. It’s a solid recipe that begs for tweaking to adjust to your market (or garden) conditions.
There is always a jar of pickled peppers in the refrigerator. I’ve tried canning them, but the refrigerator version keeps the crispy crunch, so I opt for refrigerator instead of shelf stability. I’ve found these pickled chiles last at least six months and are fantastic on chili, in tacos, or chopped and slipped inside a cheese sandwich right before grilling.
For a truly wonderful jalapeno recipe, check out Rebecca’s candied jalapenos. I always have a jar of these ready to snack on. Most recently, I chopped and added these sweet, vinegary, spicy darlings into pimento cheese. Then, on the recommendation of a Twitter friend, stuffed okra with the doctored up cheese and quickly fried in oil. Yes, indeedy… this makes a superb and surprising appetizer, even for okra haters. (If you think you hate okra, try it this way.)
One chile preserving recipe I always make is a habanero jelly. Don’t be afraid! Yes, it’s spicy, but it’s mellowed with dried apricots and floral with honey. I modified the basic Ball recipe a few years ago, adding the apricots instead of raisins, and this year’s version is the first with honey. It won’t be the last.
Serve this Habanero Gold with goat cheese. They belong together. And put it up in small, 4 oz. jars. You’ll thank me when the holidays roll around – there’s not a host in the world who won’t be thrilled when you hand over a log of goat cheese, a small jar of jam and a box of good crackers. But don’t expect them to serve it right up. The most clever among them will hoard this gift to enjoy themselves, later, when the guests have gone.
Makes about twelve 4 oz. jars
8 habaneros, stemmed and seeded, then minced to make 1/2 cup
2 sweet Italian red peppers, stemmed and seeded, then minced to make 1/2 cup
1 medium red onion, minced
8 oz. dried apricots, minced
1-1/2 c apple cider vinegar
3 c white sugar
2 c clover or wildflower honey
There’s a lot of mincing. Make it easy on yourself and put everything in the food processor and blitz it until it’s minced up tiny but NOT liquified. Or mince it all by hand, but please wear gloves when handling peppers. I’ve begun coating my hands in some oil – canola, olive, safflower – whatever I have and then donning gloves. The capacin pepper doesn’t travel through the oil, so will further protect you from that evil, evil burn.
Put everything into a deep, non-reactive pot and bring the mixture to a boil
Stir relentlessly, so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot and/or burns. The foam will begin to disperse when you are getting close to the end. When you get a solid boil you can’t stir down, boil hard for ten minutes. Check the temperature – the jelly will set at about 220°F. Turn off the heat and let it sit for three minutes.
After the rest, here are the signs you have achieved good gel set. The surface of the jelly should wrinkle when pushed. And all those pretty pepper pieces will not be floating on the surface, but will be distributed throughout the jelly. If you like it firmer, boil longer, but be careful. It’s easy to go from jelly to rubber.
If there is still a little foam, and you like the set, add a pinch of butter to rid yourself of foam.
Ladle into warm, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Add lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath for ten minutes.
Try a goat cheese cheesecake topped with this preserves. Or serve alongside manchego, instead of figs. Really, there are so many lovely things to do with this spicy, sweet, complex preserves. Enjoy!