Kimchi with Maine-Grown Cayennes


March 15, 2022

Though chile peppers are ubiquitous today and essential to many East and Southeast Asian dishes, they are South and Central American in origin. Cayenne, derived from the Indigenous Tupian language, is actually the capital of French Guiana, where that particular pepper is believed to originate. Chiles—and cayennes specifically—spread to Europe via Columbus and to Asia by means of Portuguese colonists in Brazil. By the 1500s, cayenne was one of the priciest spices in the world. With the exception of Hungary, however, Europeans (and their climate) did not latch on to the chile pepper in the way that Asian and African cultures did, both medicinally and culinarily. 

Birds need also take credit for the more benevolent distribution of chiles. Lacking capsaicin receptors (the compound responsible for peppers’ burn), they were able to eat the fruit and distribute the viable seeds far and wide, as opposed to mammals, who generally dropped them like they were hot.  

Most people are familiar with red cayenne, but this hot and fruity chile with a slight curl to its tip comes in many varieties, all colors of the rainbow, and up to a 10-inch pod. On average it’s about tenfold more hot than a jalapeño and has a mild aroma. The thin flesh makes it good for drying, which explains why you often see cayenne as a ground spice. Cayennes make up the majority of ground red pepper as well as the crushed red pepper/red pepper flakes that frequent American pizza parlors and spice cabinets. Occasionally they're used fresh, like in Szechuan cooking and our delightful Cayenne Honey Hot Sauce and Turmeric Chile Honey Syrup.

The majority of Turtle Rock’s cayennes are Red Ember, a Johnny's Seed variety that we fell in love with during their culinary breeding program. They're Maine-grown, harvested in September, and come right into the kitchen to be processed fresh or left whole and dried.

Bowl of congee with kimchi, mushrooms, and pickled plums

Kimchi with Maine-Grown Cayennes

Here we’re putting a Maine twist on kimchi (Korean fermented veg) by using our dried whole cayennes in place of the traditional gochugaru. Cayenne is actually spicier so we're treading somewhat lightly, but do adjust to your own spicy desires. You can also swap in other crunchy vegetables and fruits for the cabbage, daikon, or carrot. Eat this as a side dish, make kimchi jjigae, or add some zip to fried rice, burritos, congee, grain bowls, and so on.

Yield: 3 quarts


3 1/2 pounds napa cabbage (about one large), cored and cut into 1-inch pieces, outer leaves reserved
5 ounces sea salt
2 tablespoons glutenous rice flour (available at Asian markets)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 or 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped 
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 ounces dried whole cayenne (~10 peppers), ribs/stems/seeds removed
5 tablespoons fish sauce

Kimchi mise en place


1) Place cut cabbage in a large bowl with the salt and toss. Add enough cool water to cover. Keep the cabbage submerged with a plate (or plastic wrap or parchment) and a weight, if necessary, and let stand at room temperature several hours or overnight, stirring once if possible. (We let ours go for 10 hours, but less will suffice.)

Chopped Napa cabbage

2) Right before your cabbage finishes its bath, combine glutenous rice flour plus 3/4 cup water in a small pot, bring to a boil, and cook 5 minutes on medium-low, whisking. Add sugar and cook 2 more minutes, then remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Cooked glutinous rice flour

3) Drain your cabbage, saving 1 cup of brine (optional). Rinse the cabbage lightly, squeeze out any excess water or blot with paper towels, and place it back in the large bowl. Add daikon, carrot, and scallions.

Prepped veg for kimchi

4) Place the ginger, garlic, cayennes, fish sauce, and rice flour slurry in a food processor. Mix until well combined and a thick paste. Add more cayenne, garlic, or ginger if you would like it more potent.

Cayenne, ginger, garlic, rice slurry, fish sauce in food processor


Kimchi paste with cayennes

5) Scoop the paste into the bowl with the veg and mix together until all the cabbage is well coated.

Rubbing the paste onto kimchi

6) Very tightly pack the kimchi into a large plastic container, crock, or glass jars, leaving 1-2 inches of space at the top for juices to release. Press a reserved cabbage leaf or plastic wrap on top so kimchi is submerged. (The veg will release plenty of liquid after a day of fermenting, but you may also add a little of the reserved brine now to cover; your call.) Lid loosely.

Three quart jars packed with kimchi

7) Let ferment somewhere dark and cool (55-75°F/13-24°C) for three to four days, checking daily to make sure kimchi is submerged and that you don’t have any spills. (Note that it’s a-okay to eat this as soon as you coat it, but the magic of kimchi lies in the fermentation.) After three days, tap the container and look for bubbles; if bubbly or foamy move to the fridge, still loosely lidded, where it will continue to ferment slowly. If you don’t see bubbles or prefer more sour kimchi, leave and check for a few more days. The kimchi will be ready to eat after 2 days in the fridge but achieve its maximum flavor/ripeness after 2 weeks. It’ll keep for 2 months in the refrigerator as long as the kimchi is submerged. If the cabbage leaf on top molds, simply dispose of it, wipe out the rim, and replace the leaf (or use plastic wrap) if needed to submerge kimchi.

Fermenting kimchi

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