Hot chilli jelly

Every year I plant chilli seeds. Then every year I go out and buy large quantities of ready-grown chillis, totally confident that mine will come to nothing. Except this year they have, and I find myself with a glut.

I planted two super-hot varieties: jalapeno and another called Ring of Fire. Both went into this extremely piccante recipe. A tiny scraping on a piece of cheese is delicious… though you could just as well try it on a lump of dark chocolate.

Fresh red chillis – 10
Lemons – 2 medium
Sugar – 500 g

First of all, some important ‘bewares’. You’re working with dangerous produce here. You can wear rubber gloves while handling the chillis, but you need to keep your wits about you whether you are bare-handed or protected. Chilli juice inadvertently rubbed from your fingers into open cuts, or on to softer bits of your anatomy (mouth, nostrils, eyes, genitals) will burn for hours. Also, when the chillis are bubbling, don’t have your head right above the pot when you remove the lid: the fumes will get you coughing, badly.

With a pair of scissors, lop off the stalk end of the chillis and slit them open long-ways, then scrape out the seeds and discard them. Now chop the chillis cross-ways into very thin strips.

Halve the lemons and squeeze them. Put the juice in a measuring jug and add enough water to bring the liquid to 1.5 litres. Now cut the empty lemon halves into rough pieces and place these with the chilli and liquid into a saucepan: the lemon provides your pectin – without it your jelly will take a long long time to set. With the lid on firmly, bring the mix to the boil then turn down the heat so that it continues to bubble away gently, for 50 minutes or an hour.

Remove the lemon pieces (check that there’s no chilli clinging to them) and set them aside. Now pour the liquid into a bowl through a fine sieve. With a spoon, push the flesh of the chillis through the sieve into the bowl too. The colour now should be a beautiful lively reddy-pink.

Return the liquid and the lemon pieces to the saucepan and bring it back to the boil, then add the sugar, stirring gently as you do to make sure it all dissolves swiftly. Keep the liquid boiling merrily, stirring it occasionally, until it starts to ‘pearl’ – ie when the surface swells up in a froth of tiny, shiny bubbles. How long it will take to reach this stage depends on various factors, including altitude – but expect to be keeping an eye on your pot for a minumim of 20 minutes, and perhaps double that. Keep it at this pearling point for five minutes or so, then remove the lemon pieces and ladle the jelly into sterilised jars. Put the lids on tightly while it’s still hot and leave the jars in a cool larder or cupboard for the jelly to set.

A few thoughts. With these proportions, the jelly will be… lethal. Unless you’re a sucker for punishment, don’t gulp down a teaspoonful to see how it tastes because you won’t taste anything else for days afterwards. That said, if hot hot hot is your thing, you can make something more closely related to napalm than condiment by leaving some or all of the chilli seeds in for the pre-sieving stages.

The quantities I give should produce about 600 – 650 g of jelly. It is pointless putting this into anything except very very small jars (maximum 100 g if you can find them): though the sealed jars will last months – in fact, probably (light) years – the open ones (which should be kept in the fridge) will not keep indefinitely and as the quantities that you’ll be consuming are minuscule, you should have tiny amounts on the go, or risk losing the jelly before you can polish it off.

The pieces of lemon peel which went through the process with the chilli liquid are now caramelised, lemony, mouth-fire-inducing bits of chewiness. L loves them.

Last but not least, make sure you label your jars, immediately: you don’t want your family trying out the chef’s latest creation without realising what they’re letting themselves in for.

© Anne Hanley, 2012

About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden and landscape designer, working throughout central Italy and beyond. I have lived in Italy for over 35 years – first in Rome but now in Città della Pieve, Umbria, where I have restored my country home and transformed a medieval townhouse into three rental suites. To relax, I tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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