Easy recipes for the newbie cook, the beginner in the kitchen, the nervous novice: we all had to start somewhere, and you can start right here.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Homemade Chilli Sauce

This makes about 5 pounds/2.3 kilos of the sauce, so have some jars or bottles ready.  If you are new to home preserving, follow the instructions given later.

This sauce can be used as a relish or dip, or used as the “heat” in curries and other chilli dishes, or wherever you need a “mother sauce” to spice up your food.  I give a recipe using it to produce an almost instant meal with “leftovers” at the end.

Do not be alarmed by the quantity of chillies: I use cayenne peppers, as I grow them myself on the windowsill, but you can use any medium-hot chilli.  If your tolerance for heat is low, use mellower chillies rather than cutting the quantity: the flavour is as important as the heat.

The oil from chillies seems to cling to the fingers however many times you wash and scrub, soaking into your pores to slowly release at the most inopportune times (such as changing your contact lenses, as I know from painful experience).  Wear gloves while preparing them, or hold each chilli with a fork while chopping.  And clean your chopping board VERY thoroughly afterwards, or everything you make for the next few days will taste of chilli.

25 medium hot chillies, green, red, dried, or a combination of all three, sliced into very thin rings – I do not discard the seeds, where a lot of the heat is, but it’s up to you.
4 lb/1600 grams tinned, peeled plum tomatoes (four standard tins), or, of course, you can use fresh tomatoes if they are very ripe and flavoursome.  Tip for skinning them given at the end of this recipe.
4 oz/110 grams soft brown sugar
2 medium onions, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, finely diced
large pinch Thai seven-spice powder
2 whole star anise (these have to be fished out at the end of cooking, so wrap them in a piece of muslin if you want to make this task easier)
1/4 pint/150 ml malt vinegar
Good pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients into a large pan, bring to the boil, them reduce to a very slow simmer for about 45 minutes – 1 hour.  Remove the star anise and discard, then part-liquidise using a food processor or stick blender – I prefer a consistency that still has a few lumps and bumps in it, but you can blitz it all the way if you like, and then pass the sauce through a sieve to remove any remaining bits.  Return the sauce to the heat, bring back to the boil, and then to a slow simmer, while you prepare the jars or bottles.

If you are an experienced home-preserver, follow your usual method.  If you are new to bottling, here’s how.  You MUST sterilise the jars: whatever you may have heard elsewhere, a cycle in the dishwasher isn't enough to kill all the bugs.

First, sterilise the jars (or bottles).  Wash the jars and lids thoroughly (or run through the dishwasher), then rinse to remove any soapy residue.  Put the lids in a pan of boiling water, and let them rattle around for ten minutes, or squirt with sanitiser/antibacterial spray and wipe dry.  Put the jars on a tray into a cold oven, set the oven to at least 100 degrees centigrade/200 Fahrenheit/gas mark 1/2.  Once the oven has reached the desired temperature, two minutes is the official time for sterilising, but give it at least ten.  Or, use the microwave (again, a rare good use for the horrible machine) – put the jars (NOT the lids), still damp from their final rinse into the microwave and blast them on full power for three to four minutes.

Proceed while the jars and sauce are still red-hot  - use a dry cloth to hold the jars.  Fill the jars, leaving a small half-inch/1 centimetre gap at the top.  Wipe the tops of the jars clean, and immediately screw the lids tight, and leave the jars to cool.  After about an hour or so, you will start to hear “plink plink” noises: the sauce will contract as it cools, drawing the lids down tight and making a perfect seal.

Make some pretty labels, and stick them on the jars.

I suggest using fairly small jars and bottles: while sealed, the sauce will last for ages, but as you have used no preservatives other than vinegar, salt and sugar, you’ll need to use it within a week or two (and keep in the fridge) once you have broken the seal.

If you are using fresh tomatoes, here’s how to peel them.  Bring a large pan of water to the boil, and have a large bowl of cold water to the side.  Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for around ten seconds, then drop into the cold water.  The skins will slip off easily, once “started” with a very sharp knife.

Thai/Vietnamese style soup:
Here’s the promised recipe for an “almost instant” meal with leftovers and your chilli sauce.  Obviously, adapt it to what you have knocking around in your fridge, freezer, and store cupboard; quantities depend on what you have and how many you’re feeding.

Raw mushrooms, sliced
Spring onion cut into fine rings, or a small onion finely diced
Fresh garlic, finely diced
Some leftover cooked broccoli florets, and some leftover cooked carrots, cut into chunks
Some homemade chicken stock (which you may have to defrost from your freezer) which you have made from my previous recipe
Some leftover cooked chicken meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
Some of the chilli sauce, quantity to your taste

Bring the chicken stock to the boil, drop in the mushroom and onion, bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for a couple of minutes.  Add all the other ingredients, bring back to the boil, then reduce and simmer until all is piping hot – this should take less than five minutes.

To make a more substantial, and more authentic, meal, add some cooked noodles (which you may have previously cooked in the chicken stock before proceeding with the rest of the recipe) and maybe some roughly chopped pak choi or similar greens.

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