One of the biggest pains in the garden this year, besides fire ants and weeds, has been the Serrano plant. It’s a hold over from last year’s garden and the only reason it got a reprieve was because I got it mixed up with the jalapeno plant.
Serrano peppers are hot. Really hot. Too hot to eat as casually as we eat jalapenos and they’re not really meaty enough to candy. So what do you do when you’ve got over 100 peppers, screaming to be picked?
You ignore them.
More than once this summer, we decided that we were just going to rip out the serrano plant but I’m really glad that I was too lazy to pull the trigger. Because we found the perfect use for the 71 red serrano peppers that I picked last week: homemade red pepper flakes. (The other 40-ish will meet the same fate as soon as they turn red.)
Crushed red pepper is one of those things that, once you make at home, you’ll never want to buy again. And it takes no real special equipment although some modern conveniences will make the crushing go faster. And with less eyeball-stinging and therefore probably much less cursing.
Your jar of homemade red pepper flakes will be a vibrant shade of red, hinting at the life in each bite. But even more than the heat, which of course I loved, was the texture – crisp and crunchy.
A coarser grind (done by hand, blender, or food processor) will give you a crispy, crunchy bite when sprinkled on top of a bowl of honey sesame chicken and couscous. A finer grind (done with a spice grinder or a lengthy spin with the blender) will give you a powerful powder for seasoning a mean (AND I MEAN REALLY MEAN) pot of chile.
There’s no real recipe here – after all, there’s only 1 ingredient: Fresh red peppers (I used serrano). I don’t have a food dehydrator so I simply used the “Keep Warm” setting on the oven – it’s 170 degrees. One day, I’m going to try Alton Brown’s DIY dehydrator method (2 AC filters, a bungie cord, and a box fan) but for now, the oven is about as unmessy as it gets.
We cut the stems off the peppers and cut them in half down the length of the pepper. I put them on on an ungreased baking sheet in the oven at 170F (the “keep warm” setting) for 6 hours and then I shut the oven off and let them sit overnight. By morning, they were perfectly crispy and will crumble when squeezed. And shatter into a million pieces when dropped on the floor and stepped on.
Peppers can be crumbled by hand – but only if you have gloves; crushed in a plastic bag, run through a food processor or blender, or coarsely ground and then transferred to a spice grinder.
71 peppers yielded over 1 cup of coarse red pepper flakes. And I’m a little disturbed at how fast we’re tearing through it.