What Are Serrano Peppers?

What is a serrano pepper?
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Think of serranos, small to medium chili peppers, as the sheriff who packs some heat—more than a little. They provide a fiery heat and sharp flavor, which makes them an ideal addition to a variety of foods.

Serranos are generally eaten raw, sliced into rounds or minced for use in salsas or sauces, added to guacamole, or used as a garnish.

Serrano chilis have a "delayed fuse," which means that their heat takes a moment to fully kick in when it hits the palate. Serrano peppers register between 10,000 and 25,000 Scoville heat units on the Scoville Scale.

Serrano peppers are green when unripe, which is when they are usually sold. Serrano chilis will turn red, orange or yellow as they ripen, and some of them will turn a chocolate brown color. Bear in mind, that as they ripen, the serranos will also turn hotter.

Using Your Serranos

Serranos provide a kick in vodka, tequila, and other white liquors. Slice your peppers lengthwise, pull out the seeds and drop them into the neck of the bottle. If you really enjoy the kick, just insert your knife and slice your pepper lengthwise, being careful not to cut all the way through

To add a kick to your basic cornbread recipe, try adding two thinly sliced serrano chilis to the batter, then bake as usual.

Buying and Growing

Serranos peppers are readily available in your favorite grocery store any time of the year, even though their grow8ing season runs through the heart of the summer. To grow your own, plant your seeds indoors in peat pots six to eight weeks before your area is scheduled for its last frost.

Make sure your plants get plenty of sunshine and keep the soil moist but not wet. Once the seeds germinate .and the nighttime temperature does not drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, plant your seedlings 12 to 16 inches apart.

Harvest your green serranos when they are about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, about 75 to 85 days after planting. Don't worry if your peppers turn red; that just means the pepper will be hotter. However, if you pick your peppers green, the plant will continue to produce peppers.

You can save your pepper seeds in a cool, dry place for up to two years, but bear in mind just because you have found the perfect pepper one year, that doesn't mean your plant will produce the perfect seed.

When you slice your peppers, use gloves so you don't accidentally rub your eyes or inadvertently lick your hands.

Safety Warning

Always use gloves when handling serrano peppers. That means when you're harvesting them, cutting them, mincing and dicing them. The chili oil burns.

Should you forget your gloves—the pain will soon remind you—dip your hands in the hottest water you can find, slather olive oil on your hands and then wash them in warm soapy water. Repeat as needed.