We’ve carried Marash pepper flakes for over twenty years. I can still remember the first time I tried them, and how different they were. The color was deeper, a glowing burgundy. They were moist. The flavor was full, roasted and toasted, evocative of the sun. I kept waiting for a rush of heat to hit my tongue but it never came. Instead, there was only flavor. A growing, intense, ruby red flavor that I turned over in my mouth again and again.
We import Marash pepper directly from Turkey.
When we started, we were the only ones in America to carry it. While there are other brands I’ve never had another that matched the flavor of ours, which is the highest grade known as “silk pepper.”
Marash’s harvest comes in late summer. In August, farmers pick peppers then dry them on white sheets under the sun. I’ve never seen the pepper harvest, but it must look incredible. Grass-green hills under cloudless skies, each covered in a dazzling uneven grid of snow-white sheets and racy red peppers.
The peppers sun dry for two weeks. At the co-op, groups of women carefully remove all the stems, seeds and the white interior flesh that grows the seeds. This is a key step—one that’s done especially for Zingerman’s, as a special order—and one of the reasons why this Marash pepper has so much flavor and so little heat. The seeds and white flesh store the most of a pepper’s capsaicin, the alkaloid responsible for burning your tongue. Seeds have a lot of heat but almost no flavor. Most other red pepper flakes have lots of seeds. You can spot them in cheap jars of red pepper flakes at the supermarket or pizza counters. They’re cream colored, sometimes white, while the red pepper flakes next to them are burgundy. Look inside a jar of Marash. You won’t see a single seed.
Last, Marash peppers are ground by hand and a touch of salt is added.
The first day I tried them, Marash pepper went on my shelf at home.
It’s never been without a jar since. It’s one of the few foods that you’ll find at almost every Zingerman’s employee’s home, too. At our warehouse we keep the Marash pepper in the freezer. I recommend you do the same at home. Marash pepper won’t go bad, but it will stay moist and more flavorful that way.
I use Marash pepper flakes in place of standard red pepper flakes. Pretty much anything I cook—or buy—is fair game, including eggs, pasta, vinaigrettes for salads, potatoes and pizza. Marash pepper flakes also make an excellent marinade for chicken, pork, or fish. I like to marinate with a recipe I got from Turkish journalist Ayfer Unsal. Juice half a lime and add enough water to absorb five tablespoons of marash. Grind in food processor or, if you have the time, a mortar and pestle. Add ¼ teaspoon sugar and a tablespoon of olive oil toward the end. Make up to one day ahead and rub over the food a few hours before cooking.