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What’s the magic behind the Calabrian chili? Here’s more about them and why everyone loves this hot pepper (plus recipes!).
When it comes to hot peppers, there’s one that shines above all the rest: the Calabrian chili! This spicy Italian pepper has developed quite the fan following, and for good reason. This pepper isn’t just about heat: it imbues a fruity, subtly smoky flavor to everything it touches! While it’s common in Italian recipes, you can use a dollop of these chopped jarred chilis on just about anything. Here’s more about this special pepper, where to find it, and how to use it in your cooking.
What is a Calabrian chili?
Calabrian chilis are a type of chili pepper grown in Southern Italy in the region of Calabria. They impart a medium hot level of heat to dishes, layered with a sweet, subtly smoky and fruity flavor. Calabrian chili peppers are often used in Italian cuisine in pasta, pizza, tomato sauces, and more. The depth of flavor is what makes this mighty pepper so beloved, and it’s become a favorite of restaurant chefs and home cooks alike.
How hot is it?
The heat level of this pepper is hot. In fact, the Scoville Heat Units for a Calabrian chili are 25,000 to 40,000 SHU: 10 times hotter than a jalapeno pepper! But the experience of tasting a jarred Calabrian chili, preserved in oil with a hint of vinegar, tastes like a warm burn of medium level spice. It’s not a searing heat like you would expect! Again: this chili is more than just the heat.
What can you substitute for Calabrian chilis? Red pepper flakes are an easy substitute and equivalent in heat with a similar Scoville rating (15,000 to 30,000). But keep in mind: red pepper flakes bring only heat: they can’t stand in for the unique fruity flavor of the Calabrian.
Shopping for Calabrian chilis
Calabrian peppers are sold in jars in the grocery store, packed in olive oil and often a hint of vinegar. They’re difficult to find fresh, though you can grow them yourself! Preserving the Calabrian peppers mellows their flavor a bit, so we recommend buying them jarred.
You can find jars of both whole and chopped Calabrian at many mainstream grocery stores. Some brands may call it Calabrian chili paste, which has very finely chopped chilis. Popular brands include Delallo, Divina, Tutto Calabria and Williams Sonoma. Here are the jarred Calabrian chilis we typically use.
Ways to use Calabrian chilis
Calabrian chilis impart a fruity, subtly smoky flavor to dishes. It’s great in tomato sauces, ideal in pasta and perfect on a pizza. It’s become a popular addition to restaurant menus because of its unique flavor. Add a dollop of the jarred chopped chilis to bowl meals, on eggs, as a condiment for meat or whisked into vinaigrettes. Here are a few Calabrian chili recipes to try:
Shrimp fra diavolo is an impressive Italian-style meal with a kick! Tender shrimp swim in a garlicky, spicy tomato sauce.
- 1 pound large shrimp, deveined (peeled or unpeeled)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup minced white onion
- ¼ cup white wine (or broth of any type)
- 14-ounce can crushed fire roasted tomatoes*
- 1 teaspoon chopped or crushed Calabrian peppers
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- Optional for serving: 8 ounces pasta (like spaghetti, linguine or Easy Angel Hair Pasta) or crusty bread
- Pat the shrimp dry with a paper towel. Prepare the garlic and white onion as noted above.
- In a large skillet, heat the butter on medium high heat. Add the shrimp and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and cook the shrimp for 1 to 2 minutes per side until almost cooked through, turning them with tongs (they will cook fully later). Remove the shrimp from the pan into a bowl, leaving the juices inside the skillet.
- Reduce heat to medium and add the olive oil, minced garlic and minced onion. Cook until the garlic is starting to become golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping until the pan is smooth. Once the wine is nearly evaporated, add the tomatoes, Calabrian peppers or red pepper flakes, oregano and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a simmer. Taste, and if it’s not spicy enough, add more peppers to taste. Simmer partially covered, for 7 to 10 minutes until the flavor is smooth and rich (or up to 15 minutes if the tomatoes are not fire roasted).
- Stir in the shrimp and cook for about 1 minute before serving. Serve with crusty bread or over pasta.
*Fire roasted tomatoes taste sweet and subtly smoky right out of the can; they’re widely available in most grocery stores. If you can’t find them, substitute best quality crushed tomatoes and simmer longer (see recipe); you can also add ½ teaspoon smoked paprika and ½ teaspoon sugar to round out the flavors.
**Chopped or crushed Calabrian peppers are available in many grocery stores near the olives and pickles, or you can find them online. We used these chopped Calabrian peppers. The flavor is fruity and subtly spicy, and it’s absolutely worth finding! If not, use red pepper flakes. 1 teaspoon Calabrian chilis makes a medium spicy dish. Customize the heat level to your tastes!
- Category: Main dish
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian inspired
- Diet: Gluten Free
Keywords: Calabrian chili