Chiles

Cascabel Chile

Its name, Cascabel, which translates to rattle, comes from the sound it makes when you shake it. With its sphere, globe-like shape, the dried seeds have a lot of room to play and make noise in. Sometimes, because of that shape it is also called Chile Bola, as in ball.cascabel chile

Different from most fresh chiles that are dried, it retains its shape and doesn’t flatten out once it is dry. Also, different from many chiles, it maintains the same name when fresh or dried. It has a thick and smooth skin and a gorgeous deep brown color with red and sometimes copper hues. And its flavor resembles those colors: toasty, nutty and rustic with moderate heat.

The Cascabel is used in many ways from salsas to stews, to sauces and soups. It is used as is toasted, ground or simmered. It is not widely available outside of Mexico or even in some areas of Mexico. When I get my hands on some, I of course like to cook with the Cascabel Chiles, but I also get a good amount of pleasure admiring them as they sit in a bowl in my kitchen.

Piquí­n Chile

Don’t let their size fool you. These chiles pack a punch of flavor and more importantly, they have been spicing up Mexico’s taste buds for a long time in many ways.

Different varieties of Piquí­n grow in bushes that have small and pointy leaves. The chiles are adorably cute! They are tiny and grow to be only 1 to 2 centimeters long, round and a bit elongated. When fresh, they start green and as they mature their color turns to a deep red that moves towards brown as they dry, which is how they are mostly consumed. Piquí­n chiles have a deep flavor with hints of citrus and smoke. They are a bit spicy but incredibly pleasant.

Chile Piquin goes by different names such as tepí­n, chiltepí­n, chilito, Chiapas (yes, like the state located in south east Mexico), diente de tlacuache (opposum’s tooth), mosquito, pajarito (little bird), enano (dwarf), pulga (flea), amash, and chilpaya amongst others…

It’s most common to find Piquí­n already dried and ground in stores, and that way it can be sprinkled on top of almost everything! In fact, I bet you that any Mexican you may know has eaten Piquí­n sprinkled on something, if not regularly on many things, from pozoles to soups to salads to sweets to covering the rims of tasty drinks. It is also ever present in street food stands that sell fresh fruits, veggies and crazy corn, where these ingredients are drizzled with lime juice, sprinkled with salt and the ground chile.

Guajillo Chile

The Guajillo chile is one of the most commonly used Mexican dried chiles, and it is now widely available in the United States. It is long and pointy, with a beautiful maroon color. Its skin is quite smooth and shinny on the outside, but it is hard and tougher and less pliable than others, like the Ancho.

It has a pleasant and deep flavor, with mild heat. It tends to be a crowd pleaser.
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Poblano Chile or Pepper

The poblano chile is a star in Mexican kitchens. It is used in a wide range of ways and in a wide range of dishes. Some well known examples are chiles en nogada, rajas, pickled, and stuffed with meat or cheese and bathed in a tomato sauce. But there are hundreds of other ways…

Aside from being absolutely gorgeous – chubby, curvy, large, sensuous and with a beautiful dark green color with a bit of a shine to it – it has a striking flavor that is rich, exuberant and fruity. It tends to be a bit capricious as well: it ranges from the very mild to the very hot. However, there are ways to tame its heat.

It is rarely used or cooked in its raw form.  Unlike other ingredients, the poblano has to go through a couple of steps to bring out the finest qualities of its flavor, color and texture. It may seem daunting at first, but once you prepare them a couple of times, the process becomes very simple.  It is just like preparing roasted red bell peppers.

Chilaca Chile

The chilacas, similar to the American Anaheim, are long, thin chiles, that sometimes twist and have a shinny light green color. Their heat goes from mild to mildly hot, but they are never very spicy.

Chilacas are very meaty and are used many times as a vegetable. Most times charred, peeled, and seeded, like the Poblanos, they are used for side dishes like rajas sauteed with onions and sometimes cream and cheese. I ate this version many times in the state of Chihuahua, in the North of Mexico. They are also used for eggs, sauces, soups, casseroles and fillings, amongst other things.

Chilacas become Pasillas when dried, and turn raisin black in color and interestingly bitter in flavor. They are sometimes confused with the New Mexico chile when dried, as they are and look similar, but the later is hotter.

Mulato Chile

The Mulato chile has similar looks to the Ancho chile but instead of a reddish black skin it has a dark black skin. You can tell the difference much better against the light! The Mulato chile also has a sweeter, fuller and more chocolaty flavor than the Ancho. No doubt they are different as they come from different chiles.

The Ancho chile comes from the dried regular Poblano chile. The Mulato chile comes from a variation of the Chile Poblano that has slightly different genes with a darker color and fuller flavor. It is hard to find the latter Poblano chile variation, as the growers prefer to dry them since they can sell them at a higher price at the markets.

Chipotle Chile

The Chipotle chile is the Jalapeño chile, that has been ripened, dried and smoked.  Its name comes from the náhuatl Chilli or Chile, and Poctli or smoke.

The process of drying and smoking Jalapeños has existed for centuries, even before the Spaniards arrived. It was considered a way to preserve chiles for long periods of time and also bring out their interesting qualities.

There are different kinds of Chipotle chiles, all of which are spicy, smoky and rich.

Chipotle Chile 1
This photo shows two varieties of Chipotles.  On the left we see the longer Chipotles mecos, and in the middle we see medium sized Chipotles mecos. All the mecos come from a larger variety of Jalapeños. On the right we see the smaller Chipotles moritas, which come from smaller varieties of Jalapeños with a slightly different flavor and a bit more fragrant smell.

One of the more popular spins of any Chipotle chiles are when they are pickled and preserved in adobo sauce and turned into Chiles Chipotles in Adobo Sauce.  Another popular take is when they are pickled in vinegar and spices and become Pickled Chipotles.  But they are also used regularly, as they are dried and smoked, for many dishes, stews, soups, sauces and moles.

Habanero Chile

Habanero chiles are one happy looking bunch. They have colorful colors that go from green to the yellow, and then orange to red as they mature. They are small, cute, shinny and have waxy skin. But as much as their looks are inviting, they are the spiciest chiles in Mexican cuisine. They are incredibly fierce. With a rating of 300,000 to 350,000 on the Scoville scale for measuring hotness of a chili pepper, you can get an idea of how hot they are: Jalapeños go around 10,000 to 15,000.

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.

They are very easy to grow indoors and are beautiful to look at, so it is quite common to find them in kitchen pots, not only in Mexico!

Banana Pepper or Chiles Güeros

Banana peppers are called chiles güeros in many regions of Mexico. Güero, translates to blond, name given because of their pale, yellowish color. There are different varieties or banana peppers, but they are pale and light in looks, have waxy skin, and a similar flavor to Jalapeños. Their heat level can range from mild to hot.

There is a variety of banana peppers different from the one in this photo, that is a bit more elongated in shape, which is very popular for pickling. Banana peppers are sold in many stores in the DC-MD-VA area, but if you are unable to find them, you can substitute with Jalapeños.

Chile de árbol

Chile de árbol is a very spicy, yet incredibly flavorful dried chile. It is small, but elongated and thin. It has a deep and shinny orange-red color and it is used in many, many ways. It is often crushed for very spicy table salsas, though it is also used to add flavor and a bit of heat if not opened when cooking, amongst others.

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Pasilla Chile

The Pasilla Chile is the dried Chilaca Chile. 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.

When it is fresh, it is long and shiny with a bright light green color. Once dried and with the name Pasilla, it is very long, slender, dark brown or black, with soft wrinkled skin. It has a rich, earthy and mildly spicy taste with a hint of sweetness. It is used for many things such as table sauces, soups, stews, rubs, marinades and moles (continue for more information and photos).

It goes by different names, in some regions it is called Pasilla and in some Negro, or Black. Some call it Black Pasilla or Pasilla Negro. It can be substituted by the New Mexico dried Chile, thought it does have a different flavor. Not to confuse it with the Ancho Chile, which in some places in the US is called Pasilla as well. So it will be easy to recognize, here are a couple pictures.

But don’t worry, once you cook with a specific kind of Chile you will not mistake it with any other! I am also adding a couple pictures of the Ancho Chile in its entry, so you can distinguish them as well.

Pasilla Chile 2-thumb-510x343-754

Serrano Chile

Mexican cooking authority Diana Kennedy has said that the Serrano chile has the shape of a bullet. One could say that it tastes like one too! Serranos are spicy. However, as with most chiles, you can pump down the heat by removing the seeds and veins.

They have, like the Jalapeños, a dark and deep green color, shinny skin and a small and thin stem.  However, Serranos tend to be on the smaller side and are much thinner and appear longer.

It seems to me, Serranos have a fuller and more flagrant flavor than the Jalapeños. Don’t buy them if the have wrinkled skin or brown or black spots.

serrano 1

Jalapeño Chile

This is probably the most well known fresh chile outside of Mexico. It is extremely popular inside the country as well. It looks a bit similar to the Serrano chile, and can be used interchangeably, thus they are many times confused. They are both dark green, with a shine to them, and carry a small and thin darker stem.

However, the Jalapeño is larger, bigger, rounder and chubbier than the Serrano. Ironically, it is milder in heat and has a lighter taste. Just as most fresh chiles, its heat can be pumped down by removing the seeds and veins. Similarly as other fresh chiles, don’t buy them if they have wrinkled skin or dark brown or black spots.

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Chipotle chiles in adobo sauce

Chipotles in adobo sauce are one of my favorite Mexican ingredients. They are ready to be spooned on top or inside of almost anything: quesadillas, tacos, sandwiches, grilled meats… Yet, they are also a wonderful cooking ingredient to use for making a wide range of dishes, from soups to moles, from salsas to stews and even mashed potatoes.  Chipotles have truly unique layers of flavor that come together in a most wonderful way: smoky, sweet, deep, rich and pleasantly spicy.

Chipotle Chiles in Adobo 1

The chipotles in adobo are Jalapeño chiles that have been ripened to a deep red, dried, smoked and pickled in a combination of vinegar, spices and tomato puree.

Yes! If you want to make your own, follow my recipe. However, ready to buy chipotles in adobo sauce in cans and glass jars are a staple in Mexican pantries and stores have a wide array of brands to choose from, each with their own peculiar spin.  Should you opt for buying them (as most people do…), try a couple different brands, they do vary in flavor.

Ancho Chile

The Ancho chile is a stellar ingredient in Mexican cuisine. It is probably the most used dried Chile throughout Mexico and no wonder why: Its flavor is unmatchable.

The Ancho is the Poblano Chile that has been ripened to a deep red and then dried. This concentrates the already exuberant and fruity flavors of the Poblanos.

It is wide, chubby, wrinkled and very pliable, different from other dried chiles. It has a deep reddish brown skin, with a bit of shine, which sort of imitates its flavor as well. Deep and rich, sharp and fruity, it has a hint of bittersweet notes and a resemblance to the flavor of prunes. It is very mild in heat.

Ancho chiles can be easily found in grocery stores throughout the US. They are typically rinsed, seeded and then toasted and/or soaked or simmered in hot water.


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