This year I grew serrano peppers and have been very pleased with the results. Here's the information you need to grow, preserve and use these wonderful little chili peppers.
A Medium Hot Pepper
The serrano pepper is a chili that grows to a length of about 2 inches. Initially green, Serrano peppers turn orange and then red as they ripen. As with other peppers, you can use Serranos in either their green or red stage of developement, but if you want to dry these peppers you should wait till they are red as this is when the peppers have the least amount of moisture in their skins.
Hot peppers are rated using a scale called the Scovile Index. For perspective, Tabasco Sauce has a Scoville rating of 700, Jalapeno peppers are 2,500-8,000 and the incredibly hot and famous Scotch Bonnet pepper comes in at a whopping 100,000-350,000 Scoville. Serrano peppers have a Scoville rating of 10,000-23,000 Scoville, so they are pretty hot and definitely not for kids.
By the way, if you want to turn-down the heat a little, slice open the pepper and remove the white membrane and seeds from the inside of the pepper. Much of the heat is contained in this white membrane.
Growing Serrano Peppers
I found it easy to grow these peppers and got a yeild of about 2.5 pounds of peppers from each plant. If you are growing peppers in containers, use a 5 gallon pot so the plant does not become root bound. Pepper like warm temperatures, so place your peppers in a place where they will receive lots of sunlight. These peppers grow 2-3 feet high and can be bushy, so plan to support your plants with stakes or cages.
Serrano peppers take 10-20 days to germinate and will yield green peppers in about 60 days and red pepper in 80-100 days.
Using Serrano Peppers
Serranos are normally eaten fresh and are a key ingredient in Salsa. We like using them as a topping on pizza, chili and other dishes. Just thinly slice the serrano peppers and add to your food to give it a nice kick.
As parents of young children, we often find ourselves cooking relatively tame versions of many recipes. For example, we like to make Thai style ramen noodle soup with chicken. We cook this without any hot seasonings so the kids will eat it, but us parents add serranos to our bowls at the table. This allows my wife and I to further "customize" the heat to meet our individual taste preferences.
Preserving Serrano Peppers
Serranos are generally eaten fresh and are a key ingredient in salsa and other Mexican dishes. However, we can't consume all the peppers at harvest time, so I preserve them by both freezing and drying them. Whether you are drying or freezing, remember to discard any peppers that are soft or have any mold on them.
- Freezing - normally, you blanche veggies before freezing, but serranos are fairly thin walled, so we just put the green or red peppers in a food storage bag and toss them into the freezer. When we need them, they are easy to remove from the bag and thaw.
- Drying - We also dried a portion of the red Serranos using our food dehydrator. We then store these in a mason jar. If you don't have a dedicated food dehydrator, don't despair. You can dry peppers in your oven. Wash your peppers, dry them off, and then cut them in half lengthwise to speed the drying process. Place the peppers on an oven rack and leave them in the oven at 135-150 degrees Fahrenheit for 6-8 hours (leave your oven door ajar to let moisture escape). When done, they should feel leathery and very dry to the touch. I like the look of whole peppers and don't bother splitting them prior to drying. However, I have the luxury of using a food dehydrator; drying whole, unsplit, peppers takes much longer. I find it generally takes several days to dry them this way, so this is probably not practical if you are using your oven. Please note, peppers give off fumes as they dry which can be irritating to your eyes. The seriousness of this will depend on the heat of your peppers, your sensitivity and the ventilation in your kitchen.
If you have a favorite recipe that calls for chili peppers, please send it to me and I'll post it for readers of this blog.