Also called red pepper, cayenne is a variety of hot chile that is available as a fresh pepper or a dried ground seasoning. A member of the Capsicum Frutescens family, cayenne contains capsaicin, a natural compound that produces an intensely hot, biting taste.
Cayenne chiles are named after their tropical city of origin, Cayenne, French Guyana. The peppers may also be referred to as finger peppers, ginnie peppers or bird peppers.
Fresh: Available year-round, fresh cayenne chiles are long, thin and sharply pointed with straight or curled tips. They are six to 10 inches in length and green or red (when mature) in color. They can be eaten raw, added to salads and stuffed or cooked into a variety of savory dishes.
Ground: This hot pungent powder can be found in your grocer's spice aisle. It's commonly added to barbecue sauce, dips, stews, eggs, roasts and "deviled" dishes where "heat" is desired.
Crushed: These dehydrated crushed flakes are a popular add-on seasoning for pizza, soups, salad dressings and curry dishes.
When buying fresh, choose peppers that are firm, smooth and glossy. The stems should be fresh, green and free of cracks. The peppers can be eaten or cooked at any stage, but the red mature peppers are hotter than the green.
Store fresh cayenne peppers unwashed in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. Wrap them in paper towel or place in a paper bag. Avoid storing them in plastic as trapped moisture will hasten spoilage. Check your peppers often and discard any that develop soft or dark spots.
Store dried or crushed pepper in a cool, dark place for up to one year, or replace when the color and aroma fade.
Cayennes are one of the hottest varieties of peppers, so use extra caution when preparing them. Wear thin rubber gloves and avoid touching your face and eyes. If you don't have gloves, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water as soon as you're finished. If you feel a burning sensation on your skin, try soaking hands in a bowl of milk.
Wash the peppers right before using. To slice, begin by removing the stem and cutting the pepper in half. Next, use a teaspoon to carefully remove the ribs and seeds (this will temper the heat). If stuffing, leave these half sections whole and fill. Otherwise, put the peppers cut-side down and slice as desired.
- To add the mildest chile flavor to dishes, cut a few slits in a whole pepper and skewer with a toothpick.