Q.

Is it better to use whole chilies or chile flakes in pasta sauce? Which chilies would you recommend for getting good heat?

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A.

What form of chilies you add to pasta sauce is largely a matter of personal preference.  A lot of Italian sauce recipes call for chile flakes, and chile flakes are easy to come by, convenient, easy to measure, and easy to use.

That said, using whole dried chilies does give you a larger range of culinary options.  First, because you can remove or leave in some or all of the seeds (where a lot of the heat is stored) before cooking, you have much more control over how hot the chilies are.

Secondly, you can use whole chilies in a variety of different ways with different affects on the finished dish.  You can rehydrate dried chilies for use similar to fresh chilies, cut them up with a knife or kitchen shears, grind them into homemade chile flakes (which, depending on where you get your flakes, may have more flavor) grind them into chili powder, or put them in your sauce whole and remove them before serving (as you would a bay leaf). Removing them from the sauce after cooking will probably yield the most mild results.

As to which chilies will give you “good heat,” it’s difficult for us to recommend varieties because different people have different tolerances for spice. Why not take a look at our chile heat scale, look up chilies that you consider mild or hot, and pick varieties relative to them?

– Question Submitted by Tom S.




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