Homemade Roasted Chili Flakes

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“I want to make this dish spicier, what can I add?” I get this question often for those who love heat. In Thailand, we have a couple of options, but by far the easiest, quickest, and most versatile option is to make roasted chili flakes, or prik pohn พริกป่น in Thai.

In Thailand you’ll find roasted chili flakes as a tableside condiment offered at many restaurants, and at home everyone has a stash in their fridge or pantry. Not only does it add heat, the toasting adds a slight smokiness that gives food a little extra je ne sais quoi. It’s very simple to make (and much cleaner, as I will explain later), and you only need to make it once and it’ll last you the whole year or longer.

Ingredients and Notes

  • Spicy dried chilies. You can use any kind of spicy dried chilies that have the right amount of heat for you. If you can get dried Thai bird’s eye chilies, that’s great, but where I live, I usually use arbol chilies which can be found anywhere Latin American groceries are sold.
  • Makrut lime leaves, optional. To make your roasted chili flakes extra aromatic, I like to add a makrut lime leaf (aka kaffir lime leaf) and grind it up altogether with the chilies. You can also change this to lemongrass is you wish. You do not need to be specific with amounts here, add as many as you want, but generally I add 1 leaf to about 1½ cups of dried chilies.

How to Make Roasted Chili Flakes

I’ve made roasted chili flakes in many of my youtube videos, and you can see me make it here in nam jim jeaw video.

*Note: You can make as much or as little as you want, the method doesn’t change. But the more you make, the longer it will take to roast.

  1. Wash the chilies (optional). Some dried chilies are not clean; it really depends on the brand. If the dried chilies you have feel dusty, you need to wash them (wash the whole bag so you only need to do it once.) Dunk them into a bowl of cold water and swish them around for literally 5 seconds, then lift them out of the water and lay them out on a kitchen towel. Don’t let them linger in water of they’ll rehydrate. Towel them dry as much as possible, then let them dry completely overnight, (I use a fan to make them dry faster), before storing them.
chilies being deseeded
  1. Deseed the chilies (optional). If the chilies you have are too spicy for your liking and you want to tone the heat down a bit, cut the chilies with scissors and pour the seeds out.
chilies being toasted
  1. Option 1: Toast the chilies on the stovetop. Add the chilies (and makrut lime leaves, if using) to a dry pot, wok or skillet and stir them constantly over medium heat until a few charred spots form on the chilies (see pic below), then remove from heat. This should only take a few minutes especially for small amounts. If making a large amount you can increase the heat to medium high, but be careful as the chilies burn fast.

    Option 2: Toast chilies in the oven. If making a large amount you can use an oven. Preheat to 300°F (150°C) and bake the chilies for 5-7 minutes, or until they darken slightly and smell smokey. Chilies will not have charred spots like the stovetop method, but they should overall look a bit darker.

2 pictures of toasted chilies
  1. Transfer the chilies to a coffee grinder or spice grinder (for large amounts a food processor will also work) and grind them into small flakes or a coarse powder.

    Safety note: Do not immediately open the grinder lid after you stop the blade. Give the chili dust time to settle down before opening, 15-20 seconds at least, otherwise you will inhale chili dust and that is NOT FUN. Also when you deem it safe to open the lid, do not put your face directly on top of it; and make sure there isn’t a fan or anything blowing nearby. This all seems obvious until you forget about it, folks.

roasted chili flakes being poured from grinder

How to Store Chili Flakes

Store in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer, because chilies do get moldy overtime. I usually only make one small jar at a time and keep it in the fridge, but if you have more than you can use within 6 months, keep a small amount in the fridge and the extra in the freezer.

Shortcut: Toasting Store Bought Chili Flakes

If you can find chili flakes already ground at the store, you can also just toast these in the skillet over medium heat until they darken slightly. BUT because the flakes are tiny this will take a very short time (less than a minute) and will burn quickly, so you have to watch it carefully!

However, I have a two concerns about this:

  • If you’re thinking of “Red Pepper Flakes” you can find at most Western grocery stores…they are usually too mild to be an effective way to add real heat to food. I wouldn’t bother with them unless you’re looking to make mild chili flakes.
  • Some Asian grocery stores will sell chili flakes from Thailand, and this stuff is SPICY. However, old chili flakes stored at room temp, especially in humid conditions, can develop mold. And because these are already ground it’s impossible to tell whether there is any mold in them. So if you trust the quality of your chilies, that’s great, but I prefer to grind my own from whole chilies so I can make sure the chilies are clean and mold-free.


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