A Chile Primer – All you need to know about Mexican Chiles
Chiles are considered staples here in Mexico and even entering a grocery store you will see piles of dried chiles that tempt you, but if you don’t know what to use them for it can be a bit of a challenge. If you want to grab some of that amazing Mexican Street Food you may want to learn all you can about the heat levels of Mexican chiles. On the other hand you may need to know about Mexican refrescos and bebidas to cool down all that heat.
All you need to know about Mexican chiles you will find in this article. When I moved to Mexico I knew something about chiles but learning how to use each variety of chile is very helpful when trying out new recipes.
North of the border you may not get quite the same selection of chiles in the grocery stores, but in many Latin American shops you can easily buy the dried and fresh chiles you may need for certain recipes. In Mexico street markets all have a vast selection of chiles to choose from. in fact all over the Yucatan most markets will have a wonderful array of chiles to cook with. Check out some awesome recipes here at Chile Pepper Madness. If you ever get to Albuquerque in the spring make sure to go to the Fiery Food Show.
Yucatecan cuisine places a particular emphasis on the Habanero which can be shriekingly hot. They are very colourful and range from green to red, yellow and orange. They are the fiercest and spiciest chiles in Mexican cuisine. They rate at around 300,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville scale compared to a jalapeno that rates around 10-15,000. Habaneros are native to the Yucatan but are named after Havana, Cuba as they were a much in demand ingredient and in heavy demand years ago in the area.
Habaneros are a crucial ingredient for the regional cuisine of the Yucatan Peninsula. They are native of that region, though ironically, they are named after the Cuban city of Habana as they were traded there, heavily, centuries ago. Most sauces and salsas here in the Yucatan will be habanero based so take it easy on the sauce.
The Poblano chile is used all over Mexico and is popular both dried and fresh. Chiles en nogada, chiles in a walnut sauce with pomegranates the colours of which mimic the Mexican flag. Click on the link for the photo below to learn how to make the most authentic Chiles en Nogada.
The Poblano is also used to make Rajas which you see here a lot in empanadas and are also found pickled and used in a multitude of ways. Poblanos when fresh are a large dark green, shiny pepper with a fruity, rich flavour that can range from mild to very hot. The poblano is not generally used fresh however those purchased fresh are turned into Chile Relleno or other stuffed and cooked dishes.
Ancho chiles these are dried poblano peppers, and very commonly used in Mexican cuisine. They’re brownish-black and wrinkled with a gorgeous fruity aroma. The Ancho is a Poblano pepper that has been left to turn red and then dried, some say the flavour is rich and fruity with an overtone of sweet dried plum.
Pasilla is a chilaca ripened and dried. Its flavor is rich but sharp. This chile is used toasted or soaked and then blended smooth with other ingredients in cooked sauces or rustic table sauces, which are particularly good with seafood. It can also be rehydrated, stuffed and fried. It is also by far the most harvested and used chile in the state of Michoacan. In some towns you can see some patios covered with mats where hundreds and thousands of Chilacas are being dried in the sun to be turned into Pasillas.
Mexican cooking authority Diana Kennedy has said that the Serrano chile has the shape of a bullet. Serranos are very spicy. They are similar, to Jalapeños, with a dark and deep green color, shiny skin and a small and thin stem. However, Serranos tend to be on the smaller side and are much thinner and appear longer.
Cascabel is a small, round chile with a reddish brown skin it is found dried and fresh. Its name comes from cascabel, or rattlesnake, because its seeds rattle inside like a snakes tail. It is a hot pepper with a rich earthy flavor when toasted and used with its seeds in a rustic table sauce or in a cooked sauce made with tomatoes or tomatillos.
Chilpotle is jalapeño ripened and smoke-dried. Its name is derived from the Nàhuatl Indian words chil (chile) and poctli (smoke). It has tough, leathery, wrinkled, light-brown skin whose surface appears to be covered with a golden webbing. It’s extremely hot and has a fruity-smoky flavor.
The chilpotle is used most frequently in escabeche. It is also used whole or in pieces to season broth and is sometimes stuffed. A greater part of the crop is destined for canning as chilpotles en adobo.
De Arbol is probably closed to the most common red chile flakes and dried peppers found in North America. It is a small bright red pepper around 2-3 inches long and it is very hot. Here in Mexico this chile is most often found toasted and ground into a powder that is used sprinkled on fruits, cucumbers and jicama, but it can also be added to fried beans or used in salsas.
Which is your favourite chile?
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