Marash red pepper flakes might just be the most famous spice you've never heard of. It's been used for years in restaurant kitchens, like that of the famous Chez Panisse, though you don't often see it on the menu.
I only discovered the pepper recently after inhaling an appetizer of tuna carpaccio at a local restaurant. It was so subtly and beautifully seasoned that I had to know how it was made. The waiter listed off several fairly normal and expected ingredients, paused to think, and then said, "Oh, right. And marash pepper flakes." I had to know more.
Marash peppers hail from Turkey, where the spice is used extensively in the cuisine. It can be used fresh, but is more often dried and ground into flakes. The flaked peppers have a deep red color and irregular shape, neither the uniform circles of the red pepper flakes most of us know nor the fine powdered appearance of paprika.
The pepper tastes earthy with fruity undertones and a mild acidity. It also has a medium heat, just enough so that you know it's there. This was definitely the seasoning responsible for making my tuna carpaccio sing in my mouth.
Marash pepper flakes are most often used as a finishing garnish, sprinkled over a salad or plate of eggs just before serving. But it can also be mixed into olive oil and used as a dipping sauce for bread or a marinade for lamb, chicken, and fish. A spoonful in a soup or sauce will also add a subtle heat and fruity chili flavor.
You're not likely to find this spice at your average supermarket, but look for it at Middle Eastern groceries or find it online at one of these vendors:
• Marash Organic Pepper from The Spice Trader, $6.75 for 45 grams
• Marash Red Pepper Flakes from Zingermann's, $12 for a 49 gram jar
• Crushed Marash Peppers from Whole Spice, $6 - $72 for various weights
Have you ever cooked with this spice? How do you like to use it?
(Image: The Spice Trader)