Cooking with fresh cayenne peppers
August 14, 2008 3:53 PM   Subscribe

"Pepper," to me, means "bell pepper," but my neighbor gave me two cayenne pepper plants, and the peppers are starting to turn red. When should I harvest them, and what should I do with them?

Should I pick them once they turn completely red, or should they stay on the plant longer? And as for the cooking part, I know that you seed them carefully and take out the ribs, but then what can you do with the flesh? What kind of flavors generally go well with them? What are some basic recipes I can try out?

I'm a vegetarian, so please no fish/chicken/etc., unless the technique can be applied to tofu or something...
posted by shirobara to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure they're intended to be edible? My understanding is that some of the teeny ones are decorative, and the peppers are much too hot for human consumption.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:01 PM on August 14, 2008

Response by poster: The tag that came with them said that they're "outstanding for pickling, canning, drying, chili and salsa."
posted by shirobara at 4:06 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: If they are truly cayenne (long -- about 2 inches each -- and thin) let them turn completely red. Then clip or tear them from the plant and let them dry completely. Just put them somewhere that is dry and has good air circulation. When dry, crumble up and use them as you would crushed red peppers -- the ones you get in little packets from Pizza Hut.

Cayenne peppers are the peppers widely used in Louisiana. They are also the peppers that are usually used in "pepper vinegar," THE table sauce throughout the south. To make that, place the ripe (undried) peppers in a clean jar. Heat plain white vinegar until just boiling and pour over the peppers. Cork the bottle and let stand for a couple of days before using. Sprinkle on turnip greens, salad, jambalaya, anywhere that you'd like spice.
posted by Newstuffoldstuff at 4:10 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can pick them and eat them as soon as they turn color. If there are more than you can use in the near future, tie them up on a string and let them hang in the open air and they'll dry out. Once dried, they're good for years.

You can eat even ostensibly decorative peppers, although if you're not used to spicy, they might be a bit hot. It varies a lot from species to species, and even from plant to plant.

You actually don't have to seed them, but the seeds and the surrounding 'ribs' are the hottest part, so some people like to remove them. Be careful not to rub your eyes while you're doing this - the extra cautious person will wear gloves.

As for recipes, what doesn't go well with hot pepper? Well, chocolate pudding. But other than that, you can put some in with whatever you normally cook. Soups, especially chili. Stir-fry and curries of all kinds.

If you're worried about the heat, you can start out by taking a whole pepper and throwing it in with whatever you're cooking. Fish the pepper out when the dish is done, and you should have a mild spice all through it. If you want more heat, chop it fine, leave the seeds in, and don't cook it too much.

Also, don't forget that dairy products will cut spiciness - they have an enzyme that breaks down capsaicin, the chemical that makes peppers hot.
posted by echo target at 4:12 PM on August 14, 2008

Do Not eat them! they are great to cook with but are VERY VERY hot
posted by patnok at 4:14 PM on August 14, 2008

Best answer: Patnok - this totally depends upon your taste for hot peppers. I find cayennes to be pretty mild.

I grow several varieties of peppers including cayennes every year to make hot sauce with. I make the sauce largely by eye, but essentially its pureed whole peppers (no stems, but seeds included regardless of variety), a large amount of white vinegar and modest amount of water. Bring to a boil and cook while stirring occasionally for about 30 minutes. I then let it cool a bit, bag it in heavy duty freezer bags and freeze for 6 months to a year. Much better with age! Thaw and bottle when you're ready to use it. You can also strain the seeds and pulp if you prefer a sauce with a consistency more like Tabasco or Cholula.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:30 PM on August 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I actually think chocolate pudding would go great with cayenne pepper; in fact, I think all the trendiest drinks places are serving hot cocoas with a dash of cayenne nowadays. You can remove the ribs if you can't take the heat, but I would a leave a few seeds just to get the 'kick' you're supposed to get from them. You can use them in bean chilis, but if you're vegetarian, you might want to look into some Indian recipes. They make good use of cayenne pepper (usually dried, but any call for red chili can be substituted with a cayenne chili pepper). Here are some from epicurious. They aren't incredibly authentic, but if you don't have access to lots of Indian spices, they're a good start. Happy cooking!
posted by bluefly at 4:44 PM on August 14, 2008

Here's a photo of my most recently bottled batch of hot sauce, if you're interested.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:54 PM on August 14, 2008

If you want more recipes & techniques along the Indian line (which has a long vegetarian tradition), 50 Great Curries is a fine book. It has the 50 curries, yes, but it also has a long section on what kind of ingredients are generally used in curries, what they're used for, and how to cook with them. I'm not much of a recipe guy, but the generally-applicable techniques go a long way.
posted by echo target at 5:00 PM on August 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Chop them up and use them in soup, stew, marinades, etc. The more seeds/ribs you keep, the hotter the effect.
posted by desuetude at 5:40 PM on August 14, 2008

According to Wikipedia's presentation of the Scoville scale they fall between jalapeƱo (mild-medium heat, at least for a hot pepper fan) and habanero (high heat on just about anybody's scale), which sounds about right to me. They're generally pretty hot. I've grown them: they are a great pepper for drying (I use a needle and heavy thread to string them through the tough top stem portion and hang them to dry, they look pretty too), it is very handy to just toss a whole dried pepper or two into whatever so you can fish them out after cooking, and avoid that super hot spoonful you get sometimes with flakes, and I think you get a little better flavor than with powdered.

As others have noted they are a great hot-sauce pepper. If you've used like a Crystal hot sauce or Louisiana style hot sauce the pepper base is pure cayenne. I've made my own cayenne powder with dried peppers in my spare spice-grinder coffee grinder, but one might question the wisdom of contaminating your equipment with extra hot powder (I cleaned it out well and it didn't cause me any problems). Working with cayennes finally got me to buy a box of disposable gloves for handling the peppers when cutting/threading etc. You will regret getting a little of that juice in your eye or elsewhere sensitive for a good long time.

And you can definitely use them fresh. I find cayenne to be more of a "pure heat" pepper - I go other directions (jalapeƱos or chipotles, serrano or anaheim) for more flavor with heat. I use cayenne to basically turn up the heat. Take it easy until you get acquainted to the heat level. It's easy to overdo cayenne.
posted by nanojath at 5:57 PM on August 14, 2008

Incidentally, leaving whole seeds in imparts a lot of heat and is the prime culprit to the, well, effect of burning while exiting the body as well as entering it. I always get rid of seeds and ribs and just use the pure pepper flesh (except when using whole dried peppers that I remove before serving). Personal preference but I think that's where the best flavor to heat quotient is found.
posted by nanojath at 6:01 PM on August 14, 2008

Cayenne peppers are widely used in Southeast Asian cooking, where they are generally just referred to as "chilli". We hardly use any other kind of hot pepper besides cayenne peppers and the small chilli padi that is a lot hotter.

So you could look at some Southeast Asian recipes, e.g. Malay and Indonesian cuisines. As someone else has mentioned curries use them as well. I've also used them to make salsa before... tomatoes, cayenne peppers, green peppers, cilantro, olive oil, salt and pepper.
posted by destrius at 8:29 PM on August 14, 2008

As for recipes, what doesn't go well with hot pepper? Well, chocolate pudding.

To be fair, I've had some pretty tasty dark chocolate with chili from World Market. I know chocolate pudding and chocolate bars are pretty far apart, texturally(is that a word?) speaking, but the flavor might still work.

What's the harm in trying?
posted by owtytrof at 7:17 AM on August 15, 2008

When I'm cooking fresh beans (black beans, black eyed peas, pintos, etc.) I like to toss one whole pepper of whatever hot variety I have around in the pot. It imparts depth and a slight kick to the beans without using pork.
posted by QIbHom at 7:31 AM on August 15, 2008

Best answer: We string ours on dental floss (not the mint kind!) as we harvest them, and hang them to dry in our kitchen. I just tie on a needle and let it dangle, so I can string a few whenever they turn red. Then, this winter when I'm making chili or something, I'll break a few off and crumble them up. Attractive and functional!

If they are too hot for your tastes, you can still use them. We grew some habaneros that were, to us, inedible. I didn't want to toss them, so I cut them up and soaked them in alcohol, which I then used as an anti-squirrel spray for our other vegetable plants. You can even put dried peppers in your bird feeder--the birds aren't sensitive to the heat, but mammals are, so you won't see squirrels, racoons, or nasty urban rodents anymore.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:35 AM on August 15, 2008

Are you sure they're intended to be edible? My understanding is that some of the teeny ones are decorative, and the peppers are much too hot for human consumption.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:01 PM on August 14 [+] [!]

Nonsense. Some peppers are too hot for your consumption, restless_nomad, but others of your species can eat them (whole, raw) with little difficulty. Generalizations about pepper reactions are always false on the individual scale.

Do Not eat them! they are great to cook with but are VERY VERY hot
posted by patnok at 7:14 PM on August 14 [+] [!]

So... you're recommending that you cook with them, but don't eat them? Like bay leaves, I guess?

That being said, the teeny ornament ones are usually very, very hot, and should not be approached trivially. Dicing into foods (salads, salsa, dips, soups) will mitigate the heat concentration. Or, you can dry & grind them up - beware the powder released into the air when you open the grinder/blender!
posted by IAmBroom at 7:57 AM on August 15, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great ideas, I'm definitely going to try using them in some of these ways!
posted by shirobara at 6:16 AM on August 19, 2008

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