Hurt my eyes with Cayenne Powder
So I was thinking I'm a badass. I cut up some red onions, potatoes and green peppers. I put my wok on the electric range, tossed some olive oil in there, put some garlic salt in the oil and let it heat up. I put the onions and potatoes in the wok and let it fry for a bit with the heat on high. Few minutes later I put the green peppers in there. After 3 minutes I put half a tea spoon of cayenne pepper in there and stirred the mixture around.
Holy hell. The smoke from the wok went nuts. What did I do wrong? Is it not OK to stir fry cayenne pepper? Was there something else in the wok that might have caused all the smoke? The air is still "Dirty", not smoky. I wonder if I accidentally made some pepper spray! What happened?
2 possible scenerios based on the information you gave. 1. you used olive oil. Olive oil has an extremely low smoke point and wok frying uses very high heat. If you want a healthy oil to use in stir fry preperations use grapeseed or safflower. Both these oils have high smoke points and are polyunsaturated. Save the olive oil for stewing sweating and salad dressing. 2. usually when you are sauteing vegetables in oil the vegies release water and when you add your ground spice, in your case cayenne, it is somewhat protected from the oil. Because the spice is ground it has an extremely high surface to density ratio and therefore burns very quickly. I believe that you may have had too much oil in your wok. Drop the cayenne into oil that is 300 degrees and it pretty much instantly burns. Hence smoke...potentially painful smoke. If I had been watching you cook I could tell you exactly what happened but that is my guess based on the info you gave. One question, why are you adding garlic salt to your oil? Stop doing that. =)
While I would disagree with the statement "olive oil has an extremely low smoke point" (because some forms of olive oil have a smoking point that is very close to Grapeseed and Safflower oil - and some forms of olive oil have a smoking point just barely above 320 degrees) I have to agree with the previous recommendations for selecting a more suitable oil for your wok cooking.
You did, as you so aptly pointed out, create your own personal pepper spray. So far as your timing for adding ingredients is concerned, I think you choice of when to add the pepper may have been just a little late. As keith mentioned, adding it when the oil is somewhat cooler might help you avoid these set backs. Next time you try this dish (whatever it is) step back from the wok when you drop in the pepper flakes - just in case. Also, unless you want your pepper to toast in the cooking process, you might want to try adding it at the very end of the cooking process, tossing the ingredients quickly, and serving it that way. You won't get the pepper infusion in the oil using that method but it generally works well enough that few will notice any difference.
Assuming this is a stir fry type issue, I agree to add most little itty-bitty spices near the end. I add my flakes and a quick blast of spice about 30 seconds before I remove it from heat, while folding constantly, much as if I was adding a final sauce to the fry.
Also agreed about the oil. Most olive oil will burn far too fast, stick with grapeseed. High flash point and fantastic flavor.