by Kate Heyhoe
As mentioned yesterday, chiles are basically classified as either green and fresh or red and dried. But the red dried chiles themselves are subclassified as having either smooth or wrinkled skins.
Smooth skinned red chiles are ripe but not sweet or fruity. A dried New Mexican chile is an example. Wrinkled skinned chiles are generally fruity and sweet, such as the ancho chile. Both are used in making sauces and are frequently pan roasted before softening in a hot liquid and puréeing with onions, cumin and other spices. The smooth, brittle chiles produce a light, pungent sauce, while the wrinkled ones are thicker with a sweeter, fruitier flavor.
Some of the more commonly used chiles include the following, most of which are available in major markets, Latin American food stores, via the web or by mail order. Keep in mind that the nomenclature of chiles varies regionally, and a pasilla in Baja may actually be an ancho in Arizona.
Long Green Chiles, also known as Anaheims, California Chiles or Chiles Verdes; when dried they become known as Chiles Colorados, but may also be called Dried New Mexico or Dried California Chiles (red). The fresh varieties are pale green, somewhat flattened and curved in length. They are nearly 2 inches wide and some 6 inches long, with a mildly hot flavor. The dried red versions are similarly shaped with a smooth, brittle skin that is tougher than that of the ancho.
Poblanos (dark green) are wide at the top, shiny and heart shaped, about the size of a bell pepper but tapered at the bottom; when dried they become known as Anchos or Mulatos (dark burgundy-red), with soft, wrinkled skin. The dried ancho chiles yield a good deal of fruity pulp and are well-suited for sweet, rich sauces.
jalapeños are close to 2 inches long and may be green or red when fresh; when dried and smoked they become known as Chipotles (red or tan). The sweet, smoky chipotles have a distinctive flavor and are usually found in this country canned in a thick, red adobo sauce. Fresh jalapeños have a thick, juicy flesh with a mildly hot flavor. They may be used interchangeably with serrano chiles. jalapeños are also available canned and bottled "en escabeche," or pickled in vinegar and spices.
Chilacas (green) are about 6-inches long; when dried they become Pasillas, or Chiles Negros (dark red). The dried, almost black chiles have wrinkled skin and a complex flavor valued in making sauces. They are not fruity like ancho chiles but have a pleasantly acerbic taste.
Serrano chiles are usually green, but sometimes red, when fresh, and are some 2-1/2 inches long, narrow in width with a blunt point. They may be used interchangeably with jalapeños, but have a less juicy texture.
Habanero chiles, also called Scotch Bonnets, are green, yellow or red in their fresh form and shaped like lanterns. Native to the Caribbean, they are said to be the world's hottest chiles and are1000 times hotter than jalapeños.
Guajillo chiles are called by the same name when both fresh and dried. The burgundy-red dried chiles have smooth, brittle skin with mild heat and are some 6 inches long and narrow.
Bird or Thai Chiles are 1-1/2 to 2 inches in length and very hot; they come fresh in green or red.
Japones or Cayenne are skinny dried red chiles that are some 2 to 3 inches long. Cayenne Pepper is typically sold in its ground version.
Pequins are fresh and merely 1/2-inch in length but are hot! hot! hot! They are red in both their fresh and dried forms.
Chile De Arbol is a narrow, dried orange-red chile some 3 inches long with smooth, brittle skin and is fairly hot. It is frequently dropped whole into beans, soups and stews, then removed before serving.
Powdered Red Chiles are the ground form of dried red chiles. Varieties most often found are the lighter red California and the deep burgundy pasilla. These are not the same thing as the product known as "chile powder," which is generally a blend of powdered red chiles and other seasonings used in making chile con carne. The pure form of the powdered red chiles is preferable, and many cooks keep different varieties of powdered red chiles on hand to add greater depth of flavor to sauces and other dishes.
Canned roasted green chiles are long green chiles that have been roasted and the skin removed before canning. The best brands are ones that specify being fire-roasted. They come whole and chopped. While they are less flavorful than their fresh counterparts, canned green chiles are still valuable staples to keep around for times when fresh varieties are not available or convenient.
In addition to Mexico, recipes with chiles (or chillis, hot peppers, etc.) can be found in the cuisines of many other countries. Check out Destinations section, or use our Search feature to find chile recipes from around the world.
This page originally published as a Global Gourmet Today column in 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified January 2007
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