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Cayenne pepper (Recipe: doro wot, Ethiopian chicken in red pepper sauce) {gluten-free}

Originally published in November 2006, this updated ingredient post features new photos, links, and tweaks to the recipe. In the way that pad Thai is often the first dish people try at a Thai restaurant, doro wot might be the most popular dish at Ethiopian restaurants in America. It's great for parties.

Doro wot (Ethiopian chicken in red pepper sauce), from The Perfect Pantry.

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 Guinana, 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.

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 ten percent. There is also evidence that eating hot pepper increases the appetite. Hmmm....

Chicken in red pepper sauce (The Perfect Pantry).

Doro wot (Ethiopian chicken in red pepper sauce)

From the pantry, you'll need: lemon, onion, butter, ginger root, garlic, cardamom, nutmeg, paprika, eggs, allspice.

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; can be multiplied.


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 kosher 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
1-2 Tbsp berbere (chili pepper), hot chili powder or cayenne (start with 1 Tbsp and add, to taste)
2 Tbsp paprika
1/4 cup dry white or red wine
3/4 cup water
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and left whole
Freshly ground black 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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More chicken dishes with a little bit of kick:
Grilled not-too-spicy jerk chicken
Spicy Asian grilled chicken and pasta salad
Chicken yakitori
Grilled tikka-masala-style chicken
Slow cooker chicken vindaloo

Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Moroccan chicken kabobs, from Bitchin Camero
Chicken paprikash, from Simply Recipes
Baked panko chicken tenders with honey-BBQ dipping sauce, from Gimme Some Oven
Spiced and fried chicken, from Inspired Taste
Coconut chicken adobo, from Appetite for China

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Ha! Those poor, unsuspecting puppies! I'm a bit of a baby when it comes to "heat" but I'm becoming a bit more adventurous. Maybe my aging tastebuds are looking for a little extra excitement?

TW, heat is a great substitute for salt, especially if you use enough of it. The hallmark of this dish is red pepper, either in the berbere blend or straight cayenne. Start slowly!

Lydia - I've been wanting to try making Doro wot but haven't gotten to it yet - on my menu this week - thanks for posting the recipe!

Jeanette, I love this recipe because it works with any type of chicken pieces, bone in or boneless, light meat or dark. Start slowly on the spice, and enjoy!

Cayenne pepper really works. I finally tried it this winter to keep the squirrels off the bird feeders. I used outdate spices, and they are still working.

I would definitely have to start slowly on the spice, Lydia.

I've never cooked Ethiopian food at home, but this sounds delicious!

Mimi, it works for me, too. Some animals are more sensitive to it than others, I think.

Kalyn, this is my very favorite dish to order at Ethiopian restaurants!

wow, perfect for my dinner

I got some berbere spice from Penzy's, and it tastes so hot, I've been afraid to use it! But I'm going to buckle down and make this.

Amallia, enjoy!

Alex, start slowly! It's really the perfect spice to use in this dish.

Berbere powder is also wonderful on roasted vegetables, like potatoes, turnips, and squash. I got mine from Penzeys as well and I really love it. It's spicy to be sure, but also wonderfully fragrant.

Red Tonic, I love berbere on sweet potatoes!

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