Anyone who’s tuned into my channels or cast their eye over a few of my recipes will know that I’m a bit of a spice fiend. But although I love a crazy-spicy stir-fry (I’m looking at you, Pad Gaprow!), it’s not always about feeling hot, hot, hot. Want to know what chilli to use in your Asian cooking? Here’s everything you need to know about chillies.
What’s the best chilli to use in cooking?
Long red (or green) chillies
These are also known as cayenne peppers, and are fairly mild on the spice scale. They’re a good all-rounder and can grow up to around 15cm (6”) long. You’ll find the red ones are slightly sweeter than their green counterparts. Use these chillies to add fresh heat, crunch and colour to a dish, or as a garnish. They’re also ideal in my Sweet & Tangy Chilli Jam! Don’t worry if you can’t get cayenne peppers where you live – when I mention these in a recipe, you just want any mild chilli you can find in your area.
I use mild fresh chillies, plus dried ones, in my Chilli Jam.
These ones certainly pack a spicy punch! Birdseye chillies are only around 2–4cm (¾–1”) in length, but there’s a lot of heat in that thin, small package. I use these when I want my dish nice and spicy. The red ones are ripe and the green ones are unripe – you’ll notice the latter have a more sharp, intense flavour. I like to use these in my Thai Papaya Salad, or Som Tum. If you can’t find birdseye chillies where you live and want to know what chilli to use in its place, just use a spicy, hot chilli in its place and see how you go.
Birdseye chillies bring the heat to dishes such as Thai Papaya Salad, or Som Tum.
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to dried chillies. They vary a lot depending on where you live in the world, so you may need to do a bit of trial and error. As for me, I’ll typically rely on two varieties of dried chilli in my own cooking. I favour long red chillies from China or Thailand for stir-fries and chilli paste, when I’m after colour rather than heat. And, if I want things fiery and fabulous, I’ll use dried birdseye chillies. However, don’t get too caught up in names. As a general rule, the smaller the Asian dried chilli, the hotter it will be! See what I mean in my Sichuan Pork & Beans.
Dried chilli features in my spicy Sichuan Pork & Beans dish.
If you want to know what chilli to use if you prefer a milder heat, try removing the seeds by halving the chilli lengthways, then scraping them out with your knife or the tip of a teaspoon.