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A FRESH Point Of View: Dried Chile Guide

Our Some Like It Hot fest continues  – come see us all week for cooking demos, chile workshops and hot food samples, and this weekend for more chef-led classes and live jazz on the Back Patio. But today, I’d like to focus on another important ingredient in the spicy-cuisine toolbox: Dried chiles.

Dried chiles are an important part of Mexican, Tex-Mex and many Asian cuisines. But where fresh chiles are often used whole or sliced in stir-fries, pastas, salsas, or stuffed-chile dishes, dried chiles are more often crushed or  ground into powder and  used in chili (of course), soups, sauces and grilling rubs. Also, the flavor of dried chiles is often deeper and more intense, and often hotter, than the source chile when it’s fresh.

Dried powdered chiles are not the same as commercially prepared chile powder, which usually includes ground chiles plus additional spices and herbs. To get a  bright, fresh flavor, choose your own whole dried chiles and grind them at home just before use, in a food processor or spice mill.

Habanero – Whether dried or fresh, habanero (which means “from Havana”) is one of the hottest chiles around, an estimated 30-50 times hotter than the jalapeno. Generally rehydrated before use, dried habanero chiles have the most heat of all dried chiles. Often the main ingredient in many bottled hot sauces, habanero chiles have a fierce, intense heat and a wonderfully distinctive flavor that mixes well with tomatoes.

Pequin – A small, extremely hot chile, the chile pequin registers a fiery 9 out of 10 on the chile heat scale. This orange and red chile has a light, sweet and somewhat nutty flavor. Easily crushed and sprinkled on beans, salsas, and other Latin dishes, chile pequin can also add a mildly volcanic zest to soups, sauces and vinegars.

De Arbol – Closely related to cayenne peppers, de arbol chiles are bright red, 2-3 inches long and pointed. (The name means “tree chile” in Spanish) Thinly fleshed, de arbol chiles have a searing, acidic heat and are primarily used in powdered form to make sauces, but can also be found in soups and stews.

Japones – Extremely popular in Asian cuisine, Japones chiles are native to Mexico but play an important role in Szechwan cooking. Often steeped in vegetable oils to release their flavor, these tiny, thin, fiery-hot red chile peppers can be found in stir-fries and sauces.

Chipotle – A large, dried, smoked jalapeno, the chipotle is also known as a chile ahumado or chile meco. Tan to coffee brown in color, the chipotle is veined, ridged and measures 2-4 inches long and 1 inch across. Producing a subtle, deep, smoky heat, chipotles are used widely in Mexican and Latin cuisine.

Cascabel – The cascabel is named for the rattling sound it makes when shaken (in Spanish, cascabel means rattle). Also known as chile bola, the cascabel is dark reddish brown, smooth and round in shape, measuring about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Its smoky, wood-toned flavor is a wonderful addition to salsas, sauces, soups, and stews.

Ancho – The most commonly used dried chile in Mexico, the ancho is a dried poblano chile. Wide on top (ancho means wide in Spanish), then tapering to a round end, the ancho measures 3-5 inches long. This

Gaujillo – One of the most common chiles grown in Mexico, the guajillo is a shiny, deep orange-red chile. Its elongated shape tapers to a point and is sometimes slightly curved. Measuring about 4-6 inches long, the guajillo has berry tones with a sweet heat and is commonly used in salsas, chile sauces, soups and stews.

California – California chiles impart a medium hot, full-bodied flavor to any dish. They can be ground and used as a powder or soaked and made into a sauce.