Making crushed red pepper flakes is a very simple process that can be done a few different ways. The two ways we have made them are in a dehydrator and in the oven. The oven gave us better results, and so that is the only way we make them nowadays. Here’s what you do!
- Grow your preferred hot red pepper, and wait until they turn all the way red. We grow Serrano peppers for this purpose. You could also buy the peppers, if you don’t want to grow them.
2. Pick the peppers once they turn red. After picking, they will usually last about a week on the counter top, and probably longer in the refrigerator, though we don’t refrigerate them. Basically, you want to have at least a handful of peppers to process, since you are going to be running your oven for several hours. So, if you have a few that are ready to pick, and a few more that need a couple more days to ripen, we recommend waiting the couple of days and processing a larger batch. That said, if you wait too long, the peppers you already picked will start to go bad, so just balance it the best you can.
3. Once you have your batch of hot peppers and are ready to get started, PUT ON GLOVES! Some folks are tougher than me and have no problem working with hot peppers without gloves, but the vast majority of people will quickly regret not wearing gloves during this process. Your fingers will burn terribly, and if you touch your eyes or any other sensitive areas with your peppery hands, you will be in a significant amount of discomfort. So, just trust us here and wear gloves!
4. Use a knife to cut the stems off each of the peppers, and then cut them in quarters. The slicing here can depend on the size of the pepper. If you have a smaller pepper, you may only need to cut it in thirds, while a larger one you may have to cut in eighths. Basically, you want thin slices, so that the peppers can dry more quickly.
5. As you slice the peppers, put them on a cookie sheet, along with all of the seeds! Be sure to include the seeds. The pan does NOT need to be oiled or prepared in any way.
6. Put the pan of sliced peppers/seeds in the oven on the LOW/WARM setting. Let sit for 6 hours, checking on them periodically. After 6 hours, remove the pan from the oven and check to see how brittle the dehydrated peppers are. Though they may look dry, sometimes there is still moisture in the peppers. Take a spoon and press down on a couple of peppers. If they are sufficiently dehydrated, they will crumble under the spoon very easily. If they still have moisture in them, they won’t break easily. Instead, they will feel kind of rubbery. If this is the case, they need more time. If you continue them on the LOW setting, check back every couple of hours until the peppers are brittle enough to easily crush. At this point, if you want to accelerate the process a bit, you can advance the heat to 200ºF, but this requires paying closer attention. Check back on the peppers every half hour or so. It is definitely possible to overdo it, and the peppers will turn to ash, but 200ºF is a relatively safe temperature to avoid doing that, as long as you are paying attention.
7. Once the peppers are very brittle and easy to crush, brush them off the pan and into a bowl. From here, you want to use whatever culinary tool you have on hand that could best be utilized to crush the peppers. If you happen to have a mortar and pestle, then that would be fantastic. However, we get by fine with a cereal bowl and a wooden muddler (a tool used for making mixed drinks). Crush the pepper to your desired texture. Some prefer coarse flakes, while others enjoy a more powdery pepper.
8. Once you reach your desired coarseness, store the pepper away in a dry place. Personally, we keep them in a mason jar in the pantry.
Tip: when adding your pepper to a large pot of something, such as soup, for the first time, be sure to add only a small amount at a time, stir it in and taste test before adding more. Until you get used to it, you may find it surprising how far just a little bit of your pepper can go!
Thanks for reading, and have fun making (and eating) your crushed red pepper flakes.