Gardening newbies always have a learning curve when it comes to chile peppers. My first foray started innocently enough. I love fresh salsa, so I put in four jalapeno plants and a mysterious purple Thai chile. By August, I had five shrub-sized plants, a bushel of hot peppers, and more on the way. I made sooo much salsa. And even better, I learned an easy way to save my hot peppers.
Hot Peppers, Deep Chill
Got a pile of peppers? If you have a bountiful harvest, or if a neighbor offers you a basketful of freshly picked chiles, don’t wave it away. It’s really easy to stash them in the freezer, and use them as you need them. Unlike most vegetables, hot peppers are absolutely fine to freeze whole—a big plus if you’re too busy enjoying summer to process them. If you have time, you can halve or mince them.
Should You Thaw the Peppers Before Using?
Whether you freeze your peppers whole, halved, or minced, frozen and thawed peppers will be softer and juicier. As with all produce, the fluid-filled cells in a hot pepper expand when frozen, breaking down the cell walls. When thawed, the pod will be floppy and soft. You’ll have an easier time chopping your peppers when they’re semi-frozen and firm enough to cut. If you’ll be slicing, chopping, or mincing, let your frozen chile sit out for a few minutes before you cut it.
The Heat Stays the Same
Despite the textural change, the pepper will be just as hot coming out of the freezer as it was going in. Remember the mysterious purple chiles from my first garden? They were still so hot that touching a cut chile with the tip of my tongue set my mouth on fire for hours, despite chugging milk, and eventually, beer.
How to Freeze Hot Peppers
Always wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers, and be very careful not to touch your eyes, nose, etc. Also try not to inhale the aerosolized heat if you mince them in a food processor.
Wash and dry the peppers. Any moisture left on the peppers will become icy.
Whole peppers: If you have no time, simply put the whole, uncut peppers in a zip-top freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible, then seal. Be sure to label and date your stash.
Halved peppers: If you have more time, slice the peppers in half and remove the stems, cores and seeds. Place the halves on a sheet pan in a single layer and freeze until the peppers are stiff. Transfer to freezer bags or containers. If you want to portion them in small bags or jars, put in enough for a favorite recipe, then thaw a bag as needed. Otherwise, pack the frozen halves in a large freezer bag or container, and squeeze out as much air as possible. Return to the freezer.
Minced peppers: If you would like your hot peppers to be pre-minced so they’re ready to use, you can do that easily. Just remove the stems and seeds, then pulse them in the processor a few cups at a time, being VERY careful not to inhale the vapors when you open the lid. Mince, don’t puree, and then transfer to ice cube trays. Some people like to top off their hot pepper mince in ice cube trays with water or oil to prevent freezer burn. You can also use zip-top bags, and spread the mince thinly so it’s easy to break off a chunk as you need it.
Use Up Those Frozen Peppers!
- Homemade Hot Sauce
- Jalapeno Pepper Jelly
- Pork Chile Verde
- Kai Jeow (Thai Omelet)
- Tomatillo Salsa Verde