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How to cook with chillies

Add a little spice to your dinner with our guide to cooking with chillies. These tongue-tingling vegetables are part of the capsicum family and they come in lots of different shapes, sizes and colours. 

So, keep reading to get up to speed with which variety to use, how to prepare chilli peppers for cooking, and to answer age-old questions like ‘how many chillies should you use?’ and ‘are red or green chillies hotter?’

We’ve used the internationally recognised Scoville scale to help you figure out the best type of chilli to add to your dinner. The scale measures the concentration of capsaicin (the chemical compound that causes spicy heat) in a pepper. The world’s hottest chilli has a rating of 15,000,000 and a jalapeño is 2,500. Anything above 80,000 is considered ‘very highly pungent’. Ready to turn up the heat?

Types of chilli

Ancho chillies

Ancho chillies are some of the mildest chillies on the scale. They are usually sold as a paste, powder or dried, and in that case will need to be rehydrated before you can eat them, which you can do by covering them with boiling water for 20 mins. Drain the water then chop the chilli, removing the seeds and stalk. This dark black-red chilli will add a fruity, smoky finish to your meals and works well in Mexican dishes. 

Serving suggestion: This versatile chilli can be added to chilli con carne, enchiladas, bolognese, salsa, mayonnaise to make a hot sauce, and guacamole.

Spice rating: In general, ancho chillies have a rating of 1,000 to 2,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale for Chilli Peppers.

Try Cook With M&S Ancho Chilli £2.50

Jalapeno chillies 

This iconic chilli can now be found across the globe, but it first originated in Mexico. Its mild heat and herbaceous flavour makes it a great choice for lots of dishes. Opt for the red variety if you want a slightly sweeter taste. You can buy either variety fresh or pickled, and sliced, depending on your recipe. 

Serving suggestion: Try adding jalapenos to Mexican dishes such as fajitas, enchiladas and tacos.

Spice rating: In general jalapenos have a rating of 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale for Chilli Peppers.

Try Cook With M&S Jalapeno Chillies £1

Red & green chillies

This is the most common type of chilli. It’s a kitchen staple, combining colour, sweetness and spice, and are a great addition to a range of cuisines. Both green and red work well in stews, stir fries, curries and marinades. The green version is usually hotter than the red, so adapt your recipe as necessary. 

Serving suggestion: Pop these chillies into all sorts of dishes, from summer salads and crab cakes to curries.

Spice rating: Red and green chillies have a rating of 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale for Chilli Peppers.

Try Ocado Mixed Chillies £1

Finger chillies

These pungent chillies are usually found in South Asian dishes and they’re named for their long spindly shape. Whether you can handle the heat or prefer it stays out of the kitchen, you can remove the seeds in these chillies to cool them down slightly. 

Serving suggestion: Add this variety to homemade samosas and curries.

Spice rating: In general, finger chillies have a rating of 10,000 to 100,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale for Chilli Peppers.

Try Ocado Finger Chillies 90p

Birdseye chillies

This is the go-to chilli for those looking for intense heat and flavour. Birdseye chillies are popular in Thailand, where they’re often used in salads as well as hot dishes. They liven up any meal.

Serving suggestion: Use these chillies in curries and stews – they’re most at home in Caribbean dishes. 

Spice rating: Birdseye Chillies generally have a rating of 100,000 to 225,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale for Chilli Peppers.

Try Ocado Birdseye Chillies 90p

Scotch bonnet chillies

These chillies are seriously hot. They have to be handled really carefully – make sure to wash your hands thoroughly after preparation to avoid irritation. They come in several colours, including green, orange, red and yellow.

Serving suggestion: These chillies can be used for infusing oils or added to dishes to intensify the heat and then removed before serving. They’re used in jerk sauce and famous for their fruity flavour.

Spice rating: In general Scotch bonnet chillies have a rating of 100,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville Heat Scale for Chilli Peppers.

Try Ocado Scotch Bonnet Chillies 75p

How to prepare chillies

  1. Start by slicing the stems off the top of the fresh chillies. Then, cut each chilli in half lengthways and scrape out all the seeds and light-coloured membrane from both sides, if you like less heat. 
  2. Cut the chilli into fine strips by slicing it widthways, unless the recipe calls for the chilli to be finely diced. In this case, slice it lengthwise into long, thin strips. Bunch the strips together and finely slice across them widthways. Top tip: putting the chilli skin-side down on the chopping board makes it easier to slice.
  3. Can you freeze fresh chillies? Yes, in several different ways. If you’re working with the sliced variety, simply place the leftovers on a baking tray and pop them in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, store them in a reusable container for later. You can also preserve chillies by adding them to an ice cube tray with cold water and leaving them to freeze. 

Try these chilli-infused recipes

Chilli and Ginger Broth with Prawns

In this recipe, there’s one saucepan to rule them all. Our chilli-infused soup couldn’t be simpler to make – just add all the ingredients and cook for 3 mins. 

Brisket Beef Chilli

A comfort-food classic, a slow-cooked beef joint is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s the centrepiece of this recipe, which is flavoured with everything from bay leaves to dark chocolate, and of course, chilli

Chilli Crab Linguine

Seafood – eat it. Crab linguine is delicious by nature, but an extra sprinkling of chilli adds an extra burst of flavour that will keep you coming back for more.

Chicken Shish with Charred Chilli Relish

The great thing about this recipe is that it works for chilli lovers and haters alike. The heat all comes from the relish, so those who prefer a cooler topping on their kebab (like tzatziki or garlic sauce) can still tuck in. 

Hungry for more? You can find even more delicious recipe inspiration on our website here.

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