Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Way Too Many Hot Peppers

I frequently complain about certain aspects of living in Texas - such as oh, the oppressive heat, flying cockroaches the size of hummingbirds, and fire ants - but, I do love the fact that we have two growing seasons. Most of the year round, I reap and eat what I sow in our garden.

Right now the peppers are going bananas. I have more Super Hot Chilis, Long Thin Cayennes, Jalapenos, Habaneros, Serranos, and hot and sweet Banana peppers than we can possibly eat. We've tried drying them, but I stopped doing that the first time a batch of hot chilis whirled around in a mini chopper and my eyes burned so much I thought I was going to have to gouge them out.

We cannot eat them fast enough so I chose my newest fave thing to do with peppers - blanch and freeze them. It's remarkably easy. Blanching just means that the veggies spent a few minutes in boiling water and then were submerged in ice water. Think of it as veggie torture and you may find it far more fun.

How to Blanch and Freeze Peppers

Hot Peppers!
Here's what you need to mindfully assemble ahead of time:

1 freezer bag for each type of chili, appropriately labeled with a sharpy marker so you don't forget what kind of pepper was in the bag.
Peppers - rinsed well
1 larger bowl filled with ice and water
1 small or medium sized pot of water ready to boil
1 little sandwich bag or rubber gloves
1 sharp knife
1 cutting board
paper towels

Are you ready? Ok, here's what you do:

Put the sandwich bag on the hand that will touch the peppers - I like using the baggie instead of rubber gloves. I don't have to clean gloves or wonder where they've been before they touched my food. You just peel the baggie off when you are done by turning it inside out and pitch it so you never have to get the burn your eyeballs out stuff on your fingers. The burning stuff is capsaicin, and your eyes, nose, and skin are better off having very little contact with it.

Long Cayenne Peppers
Holding the pepper with the bagged hand, slice off the stem end, push the stem off the cutting board onto the paper towel. Make a slit about half way or more, depending on what kind of pepper you have, lengthwise along one side. Many peppers concentrate their seeds at the stem end, but not all. For the peppers that spread their seeds from top to bottom, slice entirely in half.

Stand or lay the pepper on the paper towel and scrape out the seeds and membranes with the knife tip. Repeat until you have all the peppers to this point. I like to make strips if the peppers are big. Most small peppers can be left as they are. If the peppers are all the same size, they will blanch well and the strips make it easier to quick chop a few for cookery later.

Turn the sandwich bag inside out and discard that with the paper towel holding all the seeds.

Finally, you get to Blanch those Peppers!:

Set the water to boiling - I do this after the peppers are prepped because it is too easy to mindlessly ignore the boiling pot on the stove while prepping hot peppers. One thing at a time, paying attention the whole way.

Use the knife to scrape the pepper slices off the cutting board into the boiling water. Boil for 2-3 minutes - two minutes if the pepper slices are small and three if they are a little bigger. If you are doing larger chunks of peppers - such as bell peppers - you may need to boil for 5-7 minutes. You don't want to cook them completely.

Avoid breathing the steam as they cook - or as you pour the water off. A small whiff will tell you why this is not good.

Drain the peppers and immediately plunge them into the bowl of ice water - press the strips down with a spoon to make sure they are immersed. Keep the peppers in the ice water for the same amount of time they spent in the boiling water.

Super Hot Chilis
Remove the peppers from the bowl, spread on a paper towel and pat dry. Place the peppers inside the freezer bags, spread the peppers a bit so they don't freeze in a lump that will be hard to separate. Ideally, they hardly touch each other. Lay the bag flat in your freezer until the pepper strips are firmly frozen. Then they can be moved about and touch each other without argument or melding together in a peppery glob.

Why do all this?:

Peppers exude an enzyme that can make them deteriorate even when frozen. Blanching kills the enzyme that makes mush out of your peppers and they stay nice in the freezer for a much longer time.

The whole thing takes only a few minutes and you don't have to feel badly about consigning otherwise uneaten peppers to the mulch bin... you can, if you choose, feel badly about torturing the peppers. Either way is very mindful indeed.

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