Cayenne pepper (Recipe: Ethiopian chicken in red pepper sauce)
Twenty or so years ago, the City of Boston, in a brief spate of urban beautification that would have made Lady Bird Johnson proud, bestowed upon us a Norway maple sapling to fill the empty tree hole in the brick sidewalk in front of our house.
We loved that little tree.
So did every dog in the neighborhood.
To discourage the small gifts those dogs left us (in the days before pooper-scoopering was mandatory), we sprinkled cayenne pepper around the tree hole.
It worked! Every so often we'd hear a little sneeze...and we'd watch a very surprised puppy move along, perhaps to find a kinder and gentler tree hole.
The cayenne chile is a bright red pepper that ranges from two to five inches long and about half an inch in diameter. The majority of cayenne chiles are used to make the ground cayenne pepper we buy in the grocery store, though what's labelled "cayenne" often is a blend of several different types of chiles. The word cayenne comes from kian, a pepper grown by the Tupi Indians in what is now French Guiana, and was named after either the Cayenne River or the capital of the country, Cayenne.
When should you use cayenne? When you want the same heat intensity as hot sauce, without the vinegar. Tabasco and cayenne peppers have the same Scoville Unit rating, 30,000-50,000 units. So, fresh ground cayenne provides the same zip as tabasco-based hot sauces. Many recipes include a pinch of cayenne pepper, or even a whole pepper, here and there. Cayenne can anchor dry rubs and marinades for meat, poultry or chicken; it can even spice up dessert!
Buy your cayenne from a reliable source that has frequent turnover, so you'll be sure to get very fresh pepper. Like most dried herbs and spices, ground cayenne may lose potency after long exposure to light or heat.
According to Penzeys, there is some evidence that eating hot pepper increases metabolism, reducing the calories retained from a meal by about 10 percent. There is also evidence that eating hot pepper increases the appetite. Hmmm....
Doro wat (Ethiopian chicken in red pepper sauce)
In Ethiopian cuisine this is a dish for company or a special occasion. Traditionally a whole chicken is cut into 12 equal parts — a testament to the skill of the cook! This recipe, given to me years ago by Misrak Assefa of Addis Red Sea restaurant in Boston, serves 4.
2-1/2 to 3 lb chicken, cut into 12 serving pieces (or same amount of chicken breasts and thighs, boneless or bone-in)
2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp salt
1 onion, diced
1/3 cup spiced butter*
1 Tbsp fresh ginger root, minced
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup berbere (chili pepper), hot chili powder or cayenne
2 Tbsp paprika
1/4 cup dry white or red wine
3/4 cup water
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
freshly ground pepper
Pat the chicken dry and rub the pieces with lemon juice and salt. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
In an ungreased, heavy nonreactive casserole, cook the onion over moderate heat 5 minutes until soft and dry. Shake the pan and stir constantly to prevent burning; if necessary reduce the heat or lift the pan occasionally from the stove. Stir in the spiced butter and, when it begins to sputter, add the garlic, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg, stirring well after each addition. Add the cayenne and paprika, and stir over low heat 2-3 minutes. Pour in wine and water and, still stirring, bring to the boil over a high heat. Cook uncovered, 5 minutes or until the liquid in the pan has reduced to the consistency of heavy cream.
Pat the chicken dry and drop it into the simmering sauce, turning the pieces until they are coated on all sides. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Add black pepper to taste. With the tines of a fork, pierce 1/4-inch deep holes over the entire surface of each egg. Add to the sauce and turn gently to coat. Serve hot (may be made a day ahead; refrigerate and reheat) with injera bread or boiled rice.
*To make spiced butter: Melt 1 lb organic butter in a pan with 1 tsp each cardamom, garlic, minced gingerroot and allspice. Store in a container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.