Homemade red chili pepper salt gives flavor to the rustic dishes so typical of southern Italy. Like the dried red chili pepper flakes to be found in open-air markets, this cupboard essential is meant to be tossed over pasta with garlic and olive oil, sprinkled over melted mozzarella with oregano and mixed through salads of freshly cooked beans with marinated onions.
I happened upon the technique while looking for a means of saving too many fresh peppers. As often is the case with kitchen accidents, the result is out of the ordinary. While the juices of the peppers soak into the salt crystals, the sliced pepper rings dry slowly at low heat in the oven. The outcome is a grainy, bright red and spicy salt.
- 500 grams of fresh red chili peppers
- 500 grams of coarse sea salt
Wash the chili peppers and remove the green stems. Slice the peppers into evenly sized rings and toss them through the sea salt. Lay the mixture on a flat baking sheet covered with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 80 °C.
Place the baking tray with ingredients in the oven for three to four hours. The chilies should be dry but not darkened in color. Remove the tray from the oven and let the mixture cool. Grind the salt and peppers with a mortar and pestle or with a food processor until the salt is bright red and grainy, like damp sand.
If the salt is damp, spread it out evenly on the baking tray and let it dry in the open air overnight. Once sufficiently dry, pour the salt into a glass jar with a closable lid.
♦ Suggested combinations
Use red chili pepper salt while cooking to enhance flavors, replacing it with neutral sea salt in dishes that do well with spices. Red chili pepper salt works well with fennel seeds to form a crust on fresh fish. Stir it through a pot of boiled shrimp or fresh mussels, adding some olive oil and a nice green herb like fresh mint and flat leaf parsley.
Red chili pepper salt gives special flavor to fresh broccoli and sautéed garlic. Mix it with some extra virgin olive oil and toss it through pasta with grated Pecorino Romano. Add red chili pepper to a stir fry of rainbow chard.
Red chili pepper salt keeps indefinitely. It makes a lovely contrast next to sage and rosemary salts.
Many kinds of peppers will dry in salt at a low temperature in the oven. Make jalapeño or chipotle pepper salt when the peppers are fresh and in season.