Cooking With Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

A pinch shouldn't feel like a punch

Red pepper flakes might be a star add-on to dollar-slice pizza, but for other foods, they can hog the spotlight. That's because those "flakes" when sprinkled over a delicate dish like fish or pasta cut through other flavors with little discretion. When you expect a warm round of applause, red pepper flakes break out the air horn.

One chef is offering you a quality work-around. Galen Zamarra, the James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of NYC's Mas (farmhouse) and a new coastal outpost on Long Island's North Fork, The Halyard, wants you to sift your flakes.

"By sifting red pepper flakes, you get more of a fine powder, which spreads the heat more evenly, uniformly and delicately," Zamarra says. He's after the smaller, fun-sized pieces of red pepper that fall to the bottom of the container but make their way through a sifter as a more refined spice dust. 

Zamarra recommends sifting red pepper flakes over fish, especially ceviches and crudos, and anything that could use some heat. When it's finely powdered for even flavor, you won't end up biting into a land mine of spice.

In the kitchen, Zamarra stores red pepper flakes in a shaker with a fine-mesh filter. Or he'll simply use a handheld cone sieve.

Keith Flanagan is a Brooklyn-based food and travel writer—he's never met a pastry he didn't eat. Follow his every meal on Instagram at @keithflanny.