Thursday, October 1, 2009

The World of Chile Peppers

Years ago when I wrote 'Tis the Season I had to send an issue of Chile Pepper Magazine containing one of my articles to the copy editors because they wanted to change the spelling to chili (chile is the pepper, chili is the stew... at least here in New Mexico). They weren't really familiar with the concept of a dried mild red chile powder so unfortunately in the Green Chile Enchiladas recipe they changed the 2 Tbsp red chile powder to 2 Tbsp. cayenne and I didn't catch it in time. Yowza! Anyway if you have the book, change the the sauce recipe from cayenne to mild red chile powder unless you have an asbestos mouth.

Chile names and spellings can change from region to region and heat levels can vary. So take everything I'm saying here with a grain of salt as some chile names change outside of New Mexico . If you are interested in learning more about chiles, any of the chile pepper books Albuquerque's own Dave DeWitt has written are definitely a must-have. Dave has a blog about all things chile-related HERE and I also found a great interview with Dave busting various myths about chiles.


Contrary to popular belief, our famous Hatch green chiles are not a type or variety of chile. They're all green (except when they turn red late in the season) and I *think* they're all from southern NM (chiles are grown in the rest of the state as well) but they vary greatly in heat. The 300 acre Berridge Farms in the Hatch Valley lists their specific varieties of Hatch chiles as Mild - New Mexico #20, Medium - Big Jim, Hot - Sandia, and Xtra Hot - Barker. (Even these varieties can change from farm to farm and year to year.) If you are in other parts of the country look for Anaheim or Big Jim green chiles. Poblano chile peppers are a bit greener in flavor and thinner and rounder and are quite popular for stuffing.


There are a wide variety of mild dried red chiles. Around here the superior type of dried mild red chile powder is Chimayo red chile powder. That is what we use for our red chile sauce when we aren't using the whole dried guajillos sold in big bags in most supermarket produce sections here.


I'm still trying to figure out the difference between morita and chipotle chiles. They are both smoked jalapenos and both can vary in hotness. Recently I was at El Mezquite Market in Albuquerque and in their chile aisle the moritas were black and the chipotles were brown so now I'm guessing the difference is how long they are smoked.


Ancho chiles deserve their own section - Food Network chef Bobby Flay always describes them as having the flavor of a spicy raisin. DH usually adds a tsp or so of ancho powder to his red chile sauce for greater complexity and I love them added to any potato dish. My greatest chile find was a container of frozen Baca's ancho chile puree Pro's Ranch Market in Albuquerque - not near all their other Bueno frozen chile purees but in an end aisle near their enormous carniceria


From jalapenos (which aren't always hot), serranos, and Thai bird chiles to cayenne, habanero, and I believe the current world's hottest, the Bhut Jolokia from India, hot chiles are more for embellishment than the main dish. Some of them do have flavor other than heat - the habanero actually has a lovely flavor once you get past the heat - but I generally use them all similarly to spice up a dish. I especially like to get out my El Yucateco habanero hot sauce to use liberally in soup when one of us is feeling under the weather.

Some more links about chiles


KAnn said...

This is an older post that I didn't get to read until today but I wanted to say that this is great info and I will make a notation in my copy of 'Tis the Season (purchased it a month or so ago from Amazon Used and have really enjoyed it, btw.

Nanette said...

Yes definitely make a notation KAnnbecause 2 Tbsp of cayenne pepper will definitely be difficult to eat for most people! :)

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