Homemade Hunan Salted Chilies

Back when Fuchsia Dunlop’s Hunan cookbook, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook came out, I wanted to make a jar of salted chilies as per her directions so that I could use them to get an authentic Hunanese flavor in my recipes. This condiment, which is easily made at home (a good thing, because it isn’t available in the marketplace) is nothing more than ripe red hot chilies, chopped up and tossed with salt, then sealed up and kept at cool room temperature for two weeks.

She described them as tangy, salty and hot, and said that they added amazing color and flavor to Hunan foods. Obviously, they are the product of lactic acid fermentation just like kimchi and saurkraut.

Since I love kimchi and I love chilies, I couldn’t help but want to make this.

Alas, I had to wait until now to do so because my ability to get a full pound of red, ripe chilies until now has been lacking. But, another benefit of late summer heat and sun is this: there are ripe chilies available at the farmer’s market in copious amounts. I picked up a pound of red cayennes–and boy are they HOT!

I know this because as I was chopping them, the back of my throat started to tickle. (I wore gloves, of course, but I didn’t wear a surgical mask. Maybe I should have had a gas mask, too?) Then, my nose started to run, my eyes watered and my throat began to actively hurt. All from the smell coming up off the chilies.

My throat bothered me the rest of the night into the next morning, long after I had tossed the chilies with the kosher salt and sealed them up tightly in a jar.

I can’t wait to try them in a recipe–I have one all lined up–chicken stir fried with rice noodles.

But, alas, I need to wait another week and a half. Right now, the salt has all dissolved into the juices which have come out of the chopped chilies, and the color of them has begun to deepen somewhat. The process is pretty fun to watch. I check on them every time I open up the pantry.

We’ll know how they turned out when I cook with them the first time. I just think it would be best for me to remember to turn the vent hood over the stove before I start stir frying lest I kill all the cats with chili fumes.

If you are brave or crazy enough to want to make a jar of these for yourself, here is Dunlop’s recipe.

Hunan Salted Chilies


1 pound red hot chilies
1/4 cup kosher salt


Wash chilies thoroughly and discard any that show signs of mold or decay. Dry them thoroughly on a kitchen towel or a pile of paper towels.

Sterilize a jar and lid with boiling water or by running it through your dishwasher with a heat dry cycle. Make certain it dries thoroughly either in the air or through the dishwasher dry cycle. Do not use a paper towel or cloth to dry it directly.

Discard the stems of the chilies and chop them roughly. Do not remove the seeds. Place the chopped chilies into the jar with three tablespoons of the salt and with a sterilized chopstick or fork, stir thoroughly to combine the salt evenly among the chile bits.

When the salt is mixed in, level the top of the chilies, and sprinkle the rest of the salt over them, then tightly cap the jar with the lid and store, unopened, in a cool dark place for two weeks.

After that, it is ready to use. After opening, keep in the fridge, where it will keep for months.


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  1. Ooh, wonderful! I’ve just started lacto-fermenting my own pickles and sauerkraut and other veggies–as I love spicy things, this sounds right up my alley! And we’re having the wonderful farmer’s market late-summer pepper boom here in Oregon right now, too.

    Comment by SecretNatasha — August 15, 2007 #

  2. I can imagine your nose and throat on fire just by the description! Good recipe.

    Comment by Poonam — August 15, 2007 #

  3. Ooh, I just had an evil thought of trying this with Habaneros.

    Oh the culinary joys of living in Texas! 🙂

    Comment by Neohippie — August 15, 2007 #

  4. If we don’t have a ‘cool dry place’ available (I live in Arizona, and keep the house at 80F most of the time — it’s quite reasonable with the low humidity but does mean no place is ‘cool’) is there any alternative to waiting until fall to make this? I suppose the fridge would retard the process too much?

    Comment by karen — August 15, 2007 #

  5. Does the chili have to be red, or could we also use green chilis? Update us on the taste and intensity of heat when they’re done please 8^)

    Comment by Sherri — August 15, 2007 #

  6. Karen–the fridge will work, if you just leave the peppers out to start fermenting for a day or two before putting it in the fridge for two weeks or so.

    Sherri–the chilies are supposed to be red because of the flavor and because the color is important in the dishes that the chilies are used in. I suspect that the flavor is also affected–red chilies have more sugar in them because they are ripe, so they lack the faint bitter edge that unripe green chilies have.

    But that is tradition in Hunan. If all you can get are green chilies–go for it.

    Comment by Barbara — August 16, 2007 #

  7. I’ve been wanting to make an Indian version of this with green chilis (recipe found on lulu’s blog). I suspect the green chilis give it much more of an herbal flavor, and agree that since color is such an important element of cooking you’d want to stick with red for Hunanese cooking. How easy though. I really have no excuse for not doing this weeks ago.

    Comment by Diane — August 16, 2007 #

  8. I’m definitely gonna try that next time I get my hands on a big batch of peppers.

    Comment by Jacob — August 16, 2007 #

  9. Food Blog Roundup: Midwest Bounty

    The American Midwest is exploding with fruit and vegetables in the late summer – it’s the best time for farmers’ markets. What are Midwest bloggers doing with all this bounty? Becke of Columbus Foodie in Ohio visits Pennsylvania Dutch country…

    Trackback by Apartment Therapy Food — August 21, 2007 #

  10. Just wandered onto your site and have a feeling I’ll be spending quite a bit of time rummaging through your posts! Thanks for the recipe for the salted chilies. I’m farmer’s market bound this weekend and now know one of the biggies on the list to look out for.

    Comment by Jenna — August 29, 2007 #

  11. I just bought Dunlop’s book and can not wait to start cooking. I lived in Hunan for a year and sorely miss the food. Since my return, I have been so disappointed with every Chinese meal I’ve eaten.

    The pepper covered fish was one of my favorite dishes. For presentation the dish was often served with different patterns of color on top using orange, yellow and green chilies in addition to the red chilies. I assume the were all fermented separately.

    Great site. I can’t wait to explore it further.

    Comment by ed — September 6, 2007 #

  12. Oooh, Ed–the thought of all the different colored chilies is so gorgeous. Maybe I will have to salt and ferment some green, yellow and orange chilies now.

    (I can hear Zak now. “Why do we have so many different tiny jars of fermenting chilies?”)

    I am jealous that you lived in Hunan for a year. What an adventure!

    Comment by Barbara — September 6, 2007 #

  13. […] http://www.tigersandstrawberries.com/2007/08/15/homemade-hunan-salted-chilies/ […]

    Pingback by Mmmmm Chilies « Confusement should be a word! — September 7, 2007 #

  14. So, I tried to make these, and when I opened the jar I heard excess gas escaping.

    My first thought – oh god botulism.

    My second thought – I googled around and learned that kimchi is supposed to create gas, safe gas, and does that mean this is, too?

    My final decision – I stuck the jar in the fridge and haven’t tasted it yet. I’m kinda scared. Did yours create gas like this? (If not, I am so definitely throwing these away and maybe trying again. If so, maybe I’ll be brave and taste these. Maybe.)

    Please reply asap if you can, this is rather a pressing issue for me. Thank you so much!

    Comment by Danielle — September 18, 2007 #

  15. Lactic acid fermentation, which is how salted chilies, kimchi and saurkraut are made, produces carbon dioxide as a natural byproduct.

    That said, my chilies didn’t forcibly outgas in any discernible way. I doubt that you have anything untoward in your jar, but if you are nervous about it, here is what I would do.

    Throw them out and start over with this procedure. Wash everything really well and sterilize your jar and lid in boiling water or in the dishwasher. Layer the salt and chilies as noted in the recipe, and leave at cool room temperature for three days. Then, refrigerate them for three weeks, and then open them up and try them.

    LA fermentation can work under refrigeration, it is just slowed down a bit.

    Comment by Barbara — September 18, 2007 #

  16. Thanks for getting back to me so fast! I’ll see if I can find more lovely chilies at the greenmarket today. I was using hot red cherry peppers, which are so nice and meaty.

    Comment by Danielle — September 19, 2007 #

  17. […] Homemade Hunan Salted Chilies Filed under: food Article tags: food, recipie […]

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