Every year I plant one or two cayenne pepper plants and then, one August day, go out and find them exploding with hot, red, dangerously delightful-looking peppers. I pick them all at once, and in a matter of minutes, have them prepared and preserved to last the whole winter, when I know I will need their burning beautiful heat the most.
I take a damp paper towel, wipe each one down just in case there is some dirt on them (although they are always pretty clean-looking already), and put them in a pan to dry in the oven. I turn the oven on to 200 degrees and let them sit in there for a few hours. At 200, it’s hard to burn something, but when I start to smell that spicy cayenne-ness, I check on them and turn off the heat—leaving them in the oven overnight.
Then, the next day, or perhaps the day after that if I’ve forgotten, I take them out of the oven and put them in a jar…WITHOUT A LID, just in case there is any moisture left in them. And I put that jar in my spice cabinet to await frying. Yes, I said FRYING.
You can grind them up as powder if that’s your pleasure, but you have not truly enjoyed a cayenne pepper until you have had fried a dried one and eaten it crumbled up on top of, well, anything! Pasta, veggies, meat, soup…it’s all good. It’s all amazing.
I first experienced fried cayennes on top of my father-in-law’s famous “fooey” dish, which is sautéed savoy cabbage, floured and fried anchovies, topped with fried cayennes. Sounds weird, but it’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Ever. And that’s what got me enjoying fried cayenne peppers.
Here’s how you fry a cayenne: Take a small sauté pan (I always use cast iron) and cover the bottom liberally with olive oil. Add the whole dried peppers and turn up the heat. You will notice the peppers changing color quickly. Don’t overdo it! This whole frying thing should take less than two minutes. Turn them over once. Turn off the heat. As the pan cools, the peppers get awesomely crispy and crunchy. And the oil is good and hot, too!
Pour this mixture into a serving dish and let people take their own risk with it. I can eat two to three on one serving of pasta or fooey. Some people can barely eat one. Others—and I’d like to know who they are—can eat more!
If you haven’t grown your own cayennes, or can’t find them at the farmer’s market, you can buy dried whole peppers in the supermarket and use those. I’m sure you can use other types of dried peppers, as well. But there is something about the thinness of a cayenne’s skin that makes it perfect and easy for drying and frying.
Hot diggety dog! Enjoy.