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I Have Discovered the Universal Condiment

Reading Fuchsia Dunlop's THE REVOLUTIONARY CHINESE COOKBOOK, I noticed how many recipes included what she calls "Hunanese Chopped Salted Chilies," so I decided to make some. To my surprise, the stuff has turned out to be fantastically versatile, useful with a much wider range of foods than I'd expected. The reason is that it's more or less ethnically neutral, meaning it contains no ingredient that specifically tilts its taste toward a particular cuisine. And yet it's full of flavor and great color. In addition to Dunlop's prescribed uses, so far I've flavored mayo with it, made a zingy rice pilaf, and even added a few spoonfuls to a batch of kielbasa I was stuffing that had struck me as bland. Here's the recipe, which couldn't be simpler:

1. Wash 1 lb. very fresh red chiles [I used Fresnos, since that's what I could get my hands on] and dry thoroughly. Cut off their stems and bottoms, and chop coarsely with the seeds. Place the chopped chilies in a bowl.

2. Add 3.5 tablespoons of the salt to the chiles and mix thoroughly. Place in a glass jar and cover with the remaining salt. Seal with a tight-fitting lid. Leave in a cool place for a couple of weeks before using [I just stuck them in the fridge], then store in the refrigerator once opened. The chilies will keep in the refrigerator for months.

No fridge should be without a jar.
And thanks, Ms. Dunlop.

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  1. I'll be buying a pound of red chiles at the market Saturday, and making a batch. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I wonder about a garlic-enhanced version? Use either raw or sauteed garlic, dump in a handful of cloves to the jar and percolate as normal.

      3 Replies
      1. re: KenWritez

        This sounds more like Sriracha, which I can attest tastes good on just about anything that can take a little heat.

        1. re: chanterelle

          Agreed that this sounds like Sriracha, which is THE universal condiment

          1. re: kalidaemon

            It doesn't taste like sriracha, it's just chiles and salt. No vinegar or sugar, which were both in the sriracha recipe I just googled. Also I think mine turned out the better for being made with a mix of different kinds of chiles, red and green.

      2. How much salt was used total? It just says to cover with remaining salt. It does sound good..

        3 Replies
        1. re: King of Northern Blvd

          OUCH!! Nothing like leaving out the most important info.
          The total salt is 1/4 (that's one-quarter) cup.
          Sorry about that--very sloppy of me.

          1. re: Barry Foy

            When you use this, do you dig into the bottom of the jar for just the chiles, or do you use the salt on top too?

            1. re: JasmineG

              Hey JasmineG,

              When the couple of weeks' curing is finished, you stir it all together.

        2. Agree with their oddly catholic uses, considering their origin. This is a great book (both her books are).
          www.littlecomptonmornings.blogspot.com

          1. I don't think I get it. Is it just hot, or does it have a taste? How is it different from just adding chiles or chile powder and salt to a recipe?

            2 Replies
            1. re: Pia

              More spark and zing, nice color, a little fruitier perhaps. And heat is variable depending on the kind of peppers you use. Mysterious alchemy.

              1. re: Barry Foy

                I just returned from the market with a pound of beautiful Cherrybomb peppers. They're very hot and very fruity, so I think they'll do well in this recipe. Will let you know.

            2. Since I'm on a restricted sodium diet, I can't use the salt, so I might try this with a salt substitute--potassium chloride.

              1 Reply
              1. re: KenWritez

                I have always used unrefined sea salt. This is a ferment! Thats the difference. Its a living food that will keep in the fridge for the better part of a year and still retain the crispness of a fresh veggie. Its is tangy like a kimchi would be.

                Ive done this to banana peppers and to serrano peppers.....and all the varieties of kraut too of course.

                Yep, fermented anything is great. Check our Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz for more ideas along these lines :o)

                TTFN - Dona in OK

              2. I have been eyeing that 1lb bag of mixed hot peppers at costco for a few weeks before I saw this post. I bought it tonight and chopped em up as per your (Dunlop) recipe. It was a mix of Ananheim, Jalapeno, Serrano and others of which I am uncertain. I can't wait to taste after it's done festering for a couple weeks..

                1. Fuchsia Dunlop is queen of the world! I have a question, though, is that 3 and 1/2 tbsp salt, 3-5 tbsp, or 35 tbsp. Can't really tell whether there's a mark there or not.

                  Btw, have you tried her Lamb Polo recipe from the Land of Plenty Cookbook? The Sichuan one? It's amazing. I'd never heard of black vinegar before reading that recipe. I just finished reading Vikram Seth's travel book from the 80's when he traveled overland from Nanjing to Calcutta through Tibet and Nepal. A wonderful book by a wonderful author. It was his first book.

                  Thanks for the recipe.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: oakjoan

                    It's 3 and 1/2 tbsp. Total amt of salt used is 1/4 cup.

                    1. re: oakjoan

                      What page is the Lamb Polo on? I can't find it.....

                      1. re: mirage

                        Sorry, I can't help you because I got Land of Plenty out of the library when it was Cookbook of the Month a while ago. The recipe is also on the BBC website. If you search for Fuchsia Dunlop BBC recipes or something similar, you should get to it.
                        If you can't find it, let me know and I'll paraphrase it.

                    2. Used mine for the first time last night -- put a small spoonful in a bowl of rather bland ramen. It really livened things up! thanks for sharing.

                      1. This sounds like great stuff. I wonder if it would work with the tiny yellow tabasco peppers growing in my garden. When you say "salt" you mean regular salt and not kosher salt, right?

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: AmyH

                          Hmmm..I just used Kosher salt as I don't think I even own regular salt. I just always assume it's Kosher or Sea. My batch is still brewing so I can even tell you if it's right or not.

                          1. re: AmyH

                            I used kosher salt in mine and it worked just fine.

                          2. I find the best chile for the salted chile recipe similar to the one listed above are Thai. You can get a two pound bag of beautiful locally grown Thai chiles at the Golden Bowl Market. Golden Bowl is in Fresno on the Northwest corner of Olive and First.

                            1. I was at the farmer's market this weekend and found the chile vendor. One basket was full of chiles. I started selecting just red ones out of the basket but the combination of all the colors in the basket ~ red, green, yellow, orange, flame (graduated red/orange/yellow) ~ I couldn't resist buying an assortment.

                              So I chopped and mixed them together with kosher salt ~ and it looks like a little fiesta in my jar. I guess they're no longer "Hunanese" because they're not strictly red but in a couple of weeks I'm sure they'll taste great.

                              1. Is this spicier than a "sweet pepper relish"? I use something like that as a food topping to spice things up. I will be stopping by my local farmer's market tonight and trying this out immediately though.

                                1. Just tried mine last night. I only used 3 1/2 TB of salt, but mine came out very salty? Did anyone else have this problem? I've had it fermenting for almost 4 weeks, so will it round out with a little more time?

                                  1. That's very cool! I will have to try this! I also ALWAYS have a jar of roasted red peppers on hand...extremely verstatile, and a bit similar.

                                    1. Well I just looked at my jar in the fridge that had been there for about a month and it got all moldy...I'm not sure what happened. I'll have to try this again.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: King of Northern Blvd

                                        I found the universal condiment ( in my humble opinion) a long time ago. It's called Frank's Hot Sauce, and I have started eating it on everything - even turkey sandwiches, LOL.

                                        1. re: breadbox

                                          Frank's rocks!

                                          It has flavor and heat. Didn't it used to be known as Durkee's?

                                        2. re: King of Northern Blvd

                                          You said you used kosher salt, right? So I wonder if there wasn't enough salt, because kosher salt is fluffier than table salt. I've read that 1/2 c of table salt = 1 cup Diamond kosher brand. Morton kosher isn't supposed to be quite as fluffy.

                                        3. So I read the subject line, and I immediately thought, "Well, duh, it's hot sauce." Glad to know I wasn't far off base. My southern/cajun variation on this theme: jam a bunch of hot peppers (tabascos & cayennes from my garden) into a clean glass bottle, pour in 1 inch of salt into the bottom of the bottle, top with distilled vinegar & cork it. Put in a cool place, shake every couple of days, and wait a few weeks. Voila--pepper vinegar.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Hungry Celeste

                                            Hungry Celeste's pepper vinegar sounds great. Not every dish wants vinegar, though, and what I originally liked--and what I found universal--about the Hunan stuff is that apart from heat and salt, it didn't have strong, very specific flavors such as vinegar, so it was very versatile. As for getting moldy, I don't know what happened there; I've had no such problems. And as for saltiness, well, this condiment consists solely of chiles and salt, so that probably shouldn't come as much of a shock. Heat and salt--what more could you want in a food?

                                            1. re: Barry Foy

                                              I made mine around the 1st of October and just tried it out last night for the first time. Wowie! I was wiped out last night and made 2 Trader Joe's rice noodle bowls for dinner, adding some chopped up leftover roasted chicken and green onions. Topped them with a dollop of my UC (Universal Condiment) and it was great. I used several different kinds of peppers, both red and yellow, and salt. Such a complex flavor coming out of such a simple mixture.

                                          2. A belated thank you! I should have said thanks last fall when I tried my first batch. Wow. The first batch was so good and did not last nearly long enough! I just cracked open batch no. 2. Even better!! This time, I used only thai bird chilies (aka scuds). I also made a double batch!
                                            Using only the thai chilies created an intensely floral, insanely hot and spicy condiment that I just cannot stop eating. It has put my zha zhang mein into the stratosphere of deliciousness.

                                            1. Yum. Thanks for sharing. I just made this with a mixture of habaneros, serranos, and jalapenos, and it is wonderful! Added some to some taco filling last night. I am sure I will add it to everything now!

                                              1. Sorry for the late reply, but thanks a lot for this insanely delicious condiment. Tonight I just tried a batch I made a couple weeks ago -- let them sit out in 70-80 degree heat in a sterilized jar before opening and refrigerating.

                                                I mixed together a quarter-cup of salt and a pound of red serrano peppers. After half of an hour the chopped peppers and the liquid they shed fit into a pint-sized jar.

                                                1. i used these proportions and mine came out WAY salty.

                                                  1. I'm planning to make a ton of this for xmas gifts (with a mix of red and green chiles to make it all festive looking). Would it be a bad idea to use a food processor to chop the chiles? Chopping 2 - 3 pounds of chiles by hand would be a pain. But for some reason I suspect that using a food processor wouldn't work well. Not sure why, though.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: maillard

                                                      maillard: As a great fan of The Universal Condiment, I also suspect that a food processor would chop them too fine, or puree them before you could stop the machine. Maybe if you cut them into halves or thirds and then processed, you might get a more chunky result.

                                                      I agree it's hard to chop all those chiles by hand. It's even worse for me because I'm allergic to the capsicum (sp?) and start to sneeze and cough almost immediately. I now wear one of those masks that cover your nose and mouth that you can buy at the hardware store.

                                                      Let us know if you try it and how it turns out.

                                                      1. re: oakjoan

                                                        Well, I got my knives sharpened and didn't get chiles in time to bring them to a food processor, so I guess I'm doing it all by hand again. I do think you're probably right about the food processor chopping them too fine. I don't use a mask for it, but I have learned to always wear gloves after having a burning hand for a day.

                                                        1. re: maillard

                                                          Or worse...burning eyes from rubbing with chile-laden fingers!

                                                    2. How long do these chopped salted chiles last? I have a batch now that has been sitting in my pantry for several months, and I've noticed its developed a grayish film around the edges of the jar. I've tasted and smelled it, and it seems OK. Is this normal and expected, or has it turned?

                                                      1. just bumping to ask a question. as i stated before when i tried this with 1/4 cup of salt it was too salty to use w/out rinsing, of having it be the sole salt component in a complex dish.

                                                        has anyone else found the same> how much salt has anyone else come up with? i have 2 bags of fresh peppers in my fridge - red hollands and green jalepenos and i want to do this again

                                                        4 Replies
                                                        1. re: thew

                                                          I've made a few batches of salted chiles as per the dunlop recipe. I've also found that the amounts of salted chiles stated in the Hunan recipes are relatively small, so the dishes don't come out overly saline, and I've made several. But I like salty food, so you might feel differently.

                                                          1. re: equinoise

                                                            i like salty food. this as above and beyond. not edible without a rinse, as i said. i was using them to salt and spice dishes at the same time... but i will try again tonight and see...

                                                            1. re: thew

                                                              Wow! I must be the empress of salt because I used it all the time without rinsing. I, as stated above, use just a small amount and always mix it into something else - scrambled eggs,stir fry, salad, etc.

                                                              I have a batch now that's been in the fridge for at least 4 months and it's in fine shape.

                                                              1. re: oakjoan

                                                                i dunno, i may have screwed up the measuring the 1st time...... trying again now

                                                        2. another question.... how much difference would it make to put it in the fridge immediately after jarring, as opposed to having it sit out for x days before putting in fridge?

                                                          1. I'm glad this post was bumped or I would've never seen it.
                                                            Sounds great.
                                                            I like making my own chili condiment - chili oil, 'Italian' chili paste, homemade tobasco style, etc.
                                                            I think I'll try it with cherrybomb as pikawicca mentioned, very fruity.

                                                            1. OK I have these in my fridge, they have been doing what they do for about 3 weeks. The peppers are still nice and crisp, there is a lot of liquid in the jar, and there are still some salt crystals. They taste very very salty, which is ok for me, but not as a "universal" condiment. I could rinse the whole thing, or rinse prior to each use. Or just wait. What do others think? I really like the concept of this, but want to get it right.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: fishie

                                                                too salty i think is the default level.... it's too much for me, too.

                                                                ps, what a sweet kitty in your avatar!

                                                                1. re: fishie

                                                                  Tks to Barry for the OP. Hi Fishie, i made these 2 weeks ago and my jar is also at half tide with salty water. Im a bit worried that theyre submerged in liquid and will spoil, but i guess theres enought salt there to keep them fresh.
                                                                  I dont want to lose them so what does anyone else think?
                                                                  ADDLED

                                                                2. I'm planning to make this recipe later today.....will be using Morton's kosher salt. Should I plan on reducing the salt volume a little, in case the recipe was developed using Diamond kosher salt? I'm wondering if this is why some folks had inedibly salty results......

                                                                  (I know, I could just try it out with a lower amount of salt and see what happens, but I'd hate to lose a pound of hand-chopped chilies because I didn't provide the right environment for fermentation. :)

                                                                  Thanks in advance for any advice you have.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: 4Snisl

                                                                    I always have this in the fridge. I make mine with Morton's kosher salt and don't really reduce the salt. However, I also don't measure the salt any more. I just chop the chiles and toss them in a glass jar with copious amounts of salt. It is salty but also so hot that I'm not using large quantities at any one time.

                                                                    1. re: tcamp

                                                                      I had gone shy on the salt to start....always easier to stir more in than take it out, right ;)Thanks so much for sharing your experience, tcamp!

                                                                  2. I'm bewildered. I thought Vegemite is the Universal Condiment....

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: drongo

                                                                      Ours is a polytheistic faith.

                                                                    2. Resurrecting this to ask; what is the folks who know preserving and pickling's take on adding fresh chilies to the original batch?

                                                                      I am growing one Fresno Chile plant,one Serrano Chile plant that I harvest when red, but it's hard to come up with a fresh "pound" all at once.

                                                                      I am also getting an awful lot of Shishitos off one plant. If anyone has an opinion about those in this recipe, please share.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                        IMHO, Shishitos are pretty tame in terms of heat for this recipe - or at least 9 of 10 peppers would be (a curiosity about this variety). I like using fresnos or red jalepenos for the recipe.

                                                                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                                          Chilies freeze quite well. Maybe you can freeze until you have a full pound.

                                                                          1. re: seamunky

                                                                            Thank you both!