Not to be confused with ground vine fruits such as black pepper, cayenne pepper is a fine brick-red powder made from the dried seeds and pods of a variety of chillies – supposedly of the Capsicum frutescens variety, which also includes Tabasco chillies. However, commercial cayenne powder can be rather more generic and include a mix of chillies.
Capsicum frutescens chillies are known in their fresh state as Thai, arbol or bird. With a Scoville heat scale count of 30,000-50,000 units, they’re among the hottest chillies, as anyone who’s cooked with fresh Thai chilli will know. Generally speaking, they are smallish (3-10cm), thin, sharply pointed yellow to red pods that are either straight or curled at the tip.
Cayenne is very similar in taste, effect and appearance to "ordinary" chilli powder, though finer in texture, and some spice aficionados feel it’s more useful for adding heat than imparting flavour. Its characteristics vary depending on the chillies used and country of origin, and some include the ground seeds and are therefore hotter.
Cayenne is used widely but sparingly (even a pinch packs a punch) as a seasoning in hot dishes such as Indian curries, Mexican chilli and Chinese hot-and-sour soup. It’s also a great addition to marinades, rubs and sauces and is a versatile condiment that gives dishes an instant hit of heat and colour.
Use cayenne in ...
curries, casseroles, bouillabaisse or paella, in sauces, on grilled fish and seafood, sprinkled over soups and hors d’oeuvres, in barbecue rubs and marinades, in dusting flour for fried chicken, fish and vegetables. Include a pinch when making hot cheese dishes, cheese biscuits, marinades, pickles, chutneys and salsa. It goes particularly well with eggs: think soufflés, omelettes, or sprinkled over a breakfast scramble. Use with care: as they say, you can always add more, but you can’t take it out! Keep cayenne pepper in a dark container in a cool cupboard as it is affected by sunlight, and buy in small quantities as it loses pungency rapidly.
Cayenne goes with ...
red meat, chicken, pork, bacon, cheese, eggs, rice, pasta, noodles, couscous, fish, oysters, scallops, mussels, crab, lobster, onion, garlic, potato, zucchini, pumpkin, squash, eggplant, tomato, lemon, butter.