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A FRESH Point of View: Fresh Chile Guide

Do you eat jalapeños for breakfast, consider wasabi a staple condiment, and believe only wimps order their Chinese food “mild” ? Then we have a festival for you. Our Some Like It Hot event, starting Wednesday, Aug. 3, celebrates all that is hot and spicy in the world of food.

We’ll present spicy cooking demos by guest chefs like Carlos Montez (of Tyler’s Villa Montez) and Clay Chilton (of Tyler’s Currents restaurant.) Our Back Patio music series will feature hot tunes (Latin jazz by Senor Gringos, among others.) And we’ll offer two weeks’ worth of workshops, product samplings, and education on dozens of spicy-hot ingredients and products you can get at FRESH.

Today, I’d like to start with the foundation of so much spicy food – the chile. At FRESH, we carry at least ten kinds of fresh chiles, from familiar jalapeños to the uncommon ghost pepper. (We have at least that many dried chiles, too; more on those next week!) If you’d like to expand your use of chiles, here’s a rundown on some of the peppers you’ll find in our produce section.

Habanero: The lantern-shaped Habanero (which means “from Havana”) is one of the hottest chiles in the world – 30 to 50 times hotter than the jalapeño. Habaneros have a fierce, intense heat and a distinctive flavor that mixes well with tomatoes and many fruits. Popular pickled, or used sparingly in salsas, stews and chutneys; they are often the main ingredients in bottled hot sauces. Fully ripe, they range in color from dark green to orange, orange-red to red.

Thai: From Thailand, this chile also grows in Asia and California. It’s small, long and narrow, with a very pointed end, but don’t let its unthreatening tiny size  be deceiving! Typical of Thai cuisine, this blazing hot chile has a seriously strong lingering heat. Add sparingly to stir-fries, curries, soups and all Asian dishes. It can even be used as a condiment for fresh fruit.

Serrano: The small serrano chile varies in color from bright to dark green to red when ripe. It is one to the hottest varieties of chiles commonly available, with a Scoville Heat Unit of 100,000. Serrano chiles are frequently used in traditional Latin dishes including guacamole, salsas, and sauces, and are also excellent pickled. Fresh serranos  are excellent roasted or barbecued on skewers with meat and onions. They have a sudden and intense bite and a pleasantly high acidity.

Fresno: Fresno chiles are shaped very similar to common jalapeño. They are available in red and green varieties, the red being the sweeter of the two. The red Fresno chile is easily mistaken for the red jalapeño, however, it typically has wider shoulders and a hotter flavor.

Jalapeño: Named after the capital of Veracruz, Mexico – Jalapa – jalapeños are among the most popular and commonly available hot chiles in the United States. In 1982, these smooth, dark green chiles (the ripe form of the green Jalapeño is red) were the first chiles to be taken into space. Jalapeños are about 2 inches long and approximately 3/4 to 1 inch thick, with a rounded tip. Ranging from mild to very hot with a green vegetable flavor, jalapeños can easily be seeded and added to soups, stews, and dips; they can also be enjoyed whole when roasted with meats or stuffed with cheese. Red Jalapeños have a sweeter flavor and are often pickled or smoked to make chipotles.

Poblano: Dark green, the poblano turns dark brown upon maturing. The poblano is a big chile, anywhere from 5 to 9 inches in length, and about 1-1 1/2 inches across. They have a rich, slightly sweet flavor with a medium to intense heat. Fresh poblanos, which are sometimes, incorrectly, called pasillas, can be roasted, skinned and shredded. Roasting gives poblano a smoky, earthy flavor. They are traditionally used in mole sauces and chile rellenos; for a twist, add fresh pasilla chiles to your favorite enchilada sauce.

Anaheim: Anaheim (pronounced AN-uh-hym) chiles are sweet, mild, and among the most popular and commonly available chiles in the United States. Closely related to a red variety (commonly known as New Mexico Chile or Chile Colorado), the Anaheim is pale to medium green in color with a long, narrow shape.

Yellow: Yellow chiles are also known as Güero chiles. (Guero is the Spanish word meaning light skinned or blonde.) Similar to the Hungarian wax, these chiles are medium fleshed and slightly sweet with a sharp flavor and waxy texture. They impart a pleasant crunch and spicy aroma to recipes. They are primarily used in yellow mole sauces, but are also excellent pickled, or added fresh to salsas, salads, and sauces.