Hot — and I mean HOT — Pepper Flakes

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Homemade hot pepper flakes.  Try them once and you'll never go back to the bulk spice shelf again.
Homemade hot pepper flakes. Try them once and you’ll never go back to the bulk spice shelf again.

Wondering what to do with those leftover cayenne peppers at the end of each gardening season?  Looking for a good reason to plant cayennes in the first place?  I’ve got 3 words for you: Hot. Pepper. Flakes.

Yes, my friends, you know them well.  You usually find them on the countertop of quality pizza parlours and the tables of Italian family restaurants.  You often give ’em a shake over your favourite slice of pepperoni or combine them with grated parmesan on your spaghetti and meat-a-balls.

But, trust me, they have a lot more uses than merely a topper for American-style Italian food.  As a chili-head, I keep them on the kitchen table, at the ready for soups, stews, chilies, eggs, potatoes…  In short, anything that can use a bit of livening up.  They make a lovely alternative to hot sauce.

And, gosh, are they simple to make.

While some folks oven-dry theirs, and still others use a dehydrator, I go with a much more cost-saving method.  I just let them dry on their own.*

As the harvest progresses, I leave some on a dehydrater tray (or clean window screen) in the sun — bringing them inside at night when dew threatens to add moisture to them.  As the weather starts getting cooler, I hang them inside — usually by making a chili-line, where I string peppers together using needle and thread and then drape them in a drafty area of the kitchen (leaving a half inch or so between cayennes).  Still later, I will put them in paper bags (dang, those LCBO bags come in handy) and leave them atop the woodstove.

Once they’re good and crispy and dry, they’re ready.

A blenderful of cayenne. Don’t accidentally inhale this stuff. No, really. I mean it.
A blenderful of cayenne. Don’t accidentally inhale this stuff. No, really. I mean it.
And then, it is merely a matter of tossing them in the food processor.  Whiz until they are flake-ified.

Now, a quick note on peppers:  The pepper flakes that you buy at the grocery or bulk food store are likely made up of a combination of peppers — bell, cayenne, ancho, etc.  They probably aren’t as hot as a straight cayenne batch.  So, be warned.

Now, truth be told, I don’t usually use a straight cayenne mix myself.  Sure, the base of the mixture is cayenne, but I also add whatever else I might have leftover — which usually means some banana and jalapano peppers, but also the much hotter habanero as well.  I’m not scared to kick it up a notch.  I also know that a blend of peppers will give your flakes a richer, deeper complexity of flavours.

Whatever peppers you decide to use, be sure that they are completely dried before you dehydrate.  You may also want to make sure than none of them have started to go mouldy during the drying process — which is definitely an issue with peppers that have more flesh (such as jalapenos and bananas).

Finally, in order to best keep their heat and flavour, store the flakes in an airtight container.

Enjoy!  Knock your socks off!

*I do dehydrate some peppers in the food dehydrator during periods where we already have it running on a regular basis, but the bulk of my pepper are dried on their own.