Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

I'm so excited to share this recipe with you!  I would never have thought to try and make Crushed Red Pepper Flake at home.  And I certainly wouldn't have thought it would be so easy.  This all came about because I had such an amazing bounty of Serrano peppers from my garden last year and I needed to find a way to use them.

I pickled some of them, used them in guacamole, made tacos and many other traditional dishes that call for hot peppers.  I even placed a few in with my jars of pickled cucumbers for some added heat.  Even after all that I still had several Serrano plants weighed down with beautiful peppers.

When I came across this idea for using them to create Crushed Red Pepper flake it was a real "ah-ha moment".  Why hadn't I thought of that?  I use crushed red pepper flake in so many different recipes that making my own seemed like a super fun idea.

Such a beautiful vibrant red color!
So as the summer started to wind down, I gave my peppers a little extra time on the plants to allow them to turn from green to red.  Then I harvested.  So. Many. Peppers.  I was proud of my little plants for all the hard work they had put in.  And as I collected them from my garden I was even more grateful for the harvest knowing what I had in mind for the bounty.

I lined my sheet tray with aluminum foil to keep the
peppers from sticking as they dried.
Now, there really isn't a "recipe" per se since it is just one ingredient - - fresh Serrano peppers.  The peppers and some patience is all you need.  To get started, just cut the stems off the peppers, being sure to keep as much of the pepper as you can.  They are small so you want to utilize as much of the pepper as you can.  Cut them in half lengthwise.  You are going to use the entire pepper, seeds and all.  If you are sensitive to peppers you might want to wear gloves while you do this.  I find that if I just wash my hands with soap a few times during the process that works well for me.  But, whatever you do DON'T TOUCH YOUR FACE!  I learned the hard way working with habanero peppers a few summers ago, and trust me it is nothing you want to fool around with. 

After being dried the Serrano peppers still
retain their color.
Once you have the peppers sliced, space them out cut side up on an ungreased baking sheet. Place them in a 175 degree oven.  If you have a "dehydrate" setting you can use that as well.  Some ovens have a "keep warm" option and that works too. The idea here is not to cook the peppers but to dry them out completely.  The length of time this takes is determined by the size of your peppers.  For my batches, I kept them in the oven for about 8 hours, shut off the oven and let them sit there overnight.  By morning they should be completely dried out and crispy.  If you pick one up they should crumble or shatter in flakes.  If they aren't dried out enough, you can put them back into a 175 degree oven again until they are finished.  I found that I had to remove some of the peppers that got done more quickly while some of the larger ones took more time. 

To create the finished product put the dried peppers into a food processor and give them a few quick pulses.  Be careful about the pepper dust that is created when you do this as breathing that in can trigger watery eyes and burning just like touching your face with the raw peppers.  Once the pepper flake is at the consistency you like, place it into air tight jars for storage.  I like to use glass Weck jars.  If you want to create a pepper powder (think Cayenne only with Serranos!) just keep on pulsing until you have a fine powdery end product.  You could also use a spice/coffee grinder for this if you have one.  If you want a more rustic texture you can also break them up in a mortal or pestle.

A close up of the final product;  I got enough from one batch
to fill two cute little glass Weck jars.
Once you have homemade crushed red pepper flakes the possibilities are endless.  You can use them in chili, soup, pasta sauce, pizza or different kinds of marinades.  I add them to meatballs and meatloaf to add a kick of heat, or sometimes I will add them to taco meat to add depth of flavor. The best part of making this at home for me is knowing it came out of my garden and not a jar that has been sitting on a shelf.

I'm already planning out my garden for this Spring and am excited to grow different kinds of peppers to experiment drying.  I'm interested to see what the heat levels are like in the final product depending on what kinds of peppers I use.  I think the jars would make great hostess gifts too!  I hope you will try this recipe and let me know how you use your newest homemade creation.

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