I've been steering away from using Calabrian chili peppers in the recipes I post on The Blog, maily because I'm not sure how many of my followers keep this delicious ingredient in their kitchens. Let this post serve as a suggestion: buy a jar! Keep them in your refrigerator and refer to the list below when you need inspiration for how to use them.
Which ones should I buy?
I buy chopped or crushed Calabrian chili peppers in oil, which are different from chopped cherry peppers or "sandwich spread," which are made from different peppers and are typically more acidic due to being pickled and packed in brine. Both are perfectly good condiments, but they're not interchangeable.
Trader Joe's calls their Calabrian chili peppers "Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce" which is made of crushed fermented peppers. Its name is the only thing I don't like about it though, because I don't think it should be categorized as a sauce. It's a jar of crushed calabrian chilis with small amounts of added oil and vinegar. I'm more comfortable calling it a "spread". It's very tasty, partially due to being fermented.
The Cento brand, which may be a little more mainstream and accessible than Trader Joe's, depending on where you live, is also tasty. Cento calls theirs "Calabrese Pepperoncino" and makes sure to warn you that they're "extra hot" on the label. Don't let them indimidate you; you're not eating them by the spoonful.
Most Italian delis or specialty markets sell jars of Calabrian chili peppers in whole, chopped, and crushed forms. They may end up costing you a little more, but they're usually tasty and high in quality.
Here are 7 ways to incorporate Calabrian chili peppers into your everyday cooking
Scramble them into scrambled eggs
Calabrian chilis have become part of my morning routine. Not only do they satisfy my constant desire for something spicy, but they also give scrambled eggs a beautiful orange hue, which resembles the color of a sunrise, if you ask me. How symbolic. Beat them into the eggs then scramble eggs as you normally would. I know low and slow scrambled eggs are all the rage, but for weekdays I prefer medium-high heat and a fast scramble so they cook quickly but without browning. When eggs are still a touch undercooked, meaning they've mostly come together but are still a little wet, stir in a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and remove from heat. Serve immeditely.
Spicy Mayo...that's actually spicy
My problem with spicy mayo is that it's never that spicy. It usually just tastes like regular mayo with a subtle aftertaste of Sriracha. I make my own semi-homemade version by adding 1Tb calabrian chili peppers to 1/4c mayonnaise then seasoning with a pinch of salt and pepper and whisking to combine. I love using this spicy creamy condiment to amp up the flavor of turkey clubs, or any sandwich for that matter. You can also use it as a substitute for regular mayo when making cole slaw.
Spicy Brussles Sprouts and Lemon Pasta
Writing the full process here would take up more space than I'm willing to use for the purpose of this post. The good news is that this recipe will be coming very soon to the blog, so if you track down some Calabrian chili peppers before then, you'll be well prepared to make the recipe!
For a spicy Italian American tuna salad crossover, combine 2 cans of tuna with 1Tb of each: Calabrian chilis, mustard, mayo, capers, and diced red onion, and 1/2Tb of each: oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine without completely crushing the tuna. Serve on toast and top with fresh parsley.
Calabrian Chili Pepper Shrimp
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 1Tb olive oil, 1Tb Calabrian chili Peppers, the juice and zest of half of a lemon, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Coat raw shrimp with this marinade and roast, grill, or pan sear them until just cooked through, which only takes 2-3 minutes per side, depending on their size. Trader Joe's also sells excellent raw, deveined, tail-on shrip in their frozen section for only $10 per 1lb bag, so you can buy your shrimp and Calabrian chili paste all in one trip to the store.
Spicy Marinated Olives or Beans
You may have noticed by now that lemon and Calabrian chili peppers go very nicely together. Use the same combination of ingredients as with the shrimp marinade above, but this time toss in a jar of olives or beans (strained!) to marinate in the refrigerator for an hour. Remove from the fridge a half hour before serving. Marinated beans and olives are perfect for happy hours and dinner parties served alonside a cheese board or strips of pita bread. I know any type of gathering sounds foreign right now, but they are just around the corner, I know it!
Steamed fish with Chili butter
Use a fork to combine equal parts calabrain chilis and softened butter, about 1Tb each. You can always use more butter/ less chili if you're still warming up to spicy food. Spread over 2-3 seasoned fish filets and steam them, until fish just turns opaque all over and flakes easily. Top with fresh basil and serve with lemon wedges.