Calling All Pepperheads: Salemme Peppers

sherri daley

If you are the type who scoffs at the red pepper flakes provided at the local pizza parlor, screwing off the top to be able to pour the maximum number of flakes on your slice while saying loudly enough for tables nearby to hear, “Ha!  You call this hot?”, then you really need Tom Salemme.

Along with his extended Italian family residing in and around Cheshire CT – and to be fair, Brooklyn - Tom keeps the Salemme tradition going. It started a couple of generations ago, great-great-grandparents growing peppers for their own use, but friends and neighbors had to have some, too. 

The tradition lived on long after the first and second generations passed away and the family farm was sold. Salemme peppers stayed, sowed and harvested on local farmland owned by T&D Growers, dried in nearby greenhouses, and, finally, the tiny peppers are plucked by hand from the dry plants at long tables in Tom Salemme’s backyard on an autumn afternoon. Friends and family (and this year, this insane foodie!) show up with muffins and coffee, pizza and beer and wine; they snap on latex gloves and surgical face masks and pluck the tiny peppers from the branches, dropping them into plastic pots to be washed later, dried and crushed and bottled. 

You too can have some insanity in your mouth. You can buy Salemme pepper at the specialty food shop in Caseus Restaurant in New Haven, where, incidentally, they serve a Spicy Special so hot you have to sign a waiver to order it.  After that, you could wander down to 116 Crown and have a delightful cocktail called the Forth & Clyde, a surprisingly refreshing drink made with whiskey, lime, and honey, served in a martini glass and topped with Salemme pepper. Just in case you lust for more heat, the drink comes with a tiny capsule – like a multi-vitamin – filled with pepper flakes.

You could order shortbread cookies made with Salemme peppers from Savor Fine Foods – or you can order from Tom himself at to stock your kitchen cabinet and experiment on your own.  At the Pepper Picking Party, one guest brought a Salemme pepper chocolate cake, which was delicious!  Who would have thought? Smooth and rich with a snappy unabashed after-bite.

For a “taste” of what the Salemme family is all about, watch their Salemme Pepper video on YouTube.  Please.


 Mussels with Tomatoes, Jalapeno and Tequila

  •  1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
  •   1/8 teaspoon Salemme pepper 
  •  garlic cloves, minced
  •  3/4 cup diced tomatoes
  •  1/2 cup sliced green onions
  •  1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 5 1/4-inch-thick slices jalapeño chili with seeds
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/4 pounds mussels (about 40), scrubbed, debearded
  • Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add Salemme pepper. Mix in tomatoes and next 5 ingredients. Add mussels. Cover and steam until mussels open, about 7 minutes (discard any mussels that do not open). Using slotted spoon, transfer mussels to large bowl. Simmer sauce uncovered until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over mussels and serve.

Grilled Chicken Thighs with Garlicky Crumbs & Snap Peas 

Before grilling chicken thighs, crust them with a combination of garlic, bread crumbs, Salemme pepper, parsley, and anchovy fillets .


  • 5 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs , 1/8 tsp of Salemme pepper, 12 garlic cloves, smashed
  • ½ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • Salt - 1 pound sugar snap peas
  • 3 medium shallots, thinly sliced


  • In a food processor, combine 4 of the anchovy fillets with the bread crumbs, garlic, Salemme pepper ,parsley and ½ cup of the olive oil; process until evenly blended.
  • Season the chicken thighs with salt. In a large bowl, toss the chicken with the bread crumb mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
  • Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. In a pot of boiling, salted water, blanch the snap peas until bright green, about 1 minute. Drain and pat dry.
  • Grill the chicken thighs over moderate heat until they are lightly charred, crisp and cooked through, about 10 minutes per side. Transfer the thighs to a platter.
  • In a large skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the shallots and the remaining anchovy fillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until the shallots are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the snap peas and cook, tossing a few times, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Season the snap peas with salt and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve the chicken with the snap peas