Dried chillies are used extensively in Mexico. Originally it was obviously because chillies grew prolifically in the summer months and they were dried in the intense Mexican sunshine to use over winter.
Jalapenos (say hal-a-pen-yo) are one of the favourite chillies in Mexico, but these proved to be a little more tricky to dry as they’re a lot more fleshy than other chillies and tended to rot before they’d dried sufficiently. Maybe through trial and error, someone eventually decided to try smoking the chillies over a fire to see if that made any difference – fortunately it did and gave us the smoky, hot taste that we know and love in barbecue flavoured sauces.
So, dried jalapenos chillies are called Chipotle (say chip-ot-lee) chillies. There are two types of chipotle chilli – Morita and Meca. The Morito chilli is a deep berry red and has a light, smoky taste. Some say the Meca chilli is the superior and has a tan coloured skin from the smoking process – this has a fruitier taste along with intense smokiness, a little goes a long way. The heat of a dried chilli is similar to the fresh version, so the chipotle is a medium to hot chilli.
The Ancho chilli is the second favourite chilli in Mexico and in its un-dried state it’s called a Poblano chilli. Poblanos are a mild chilli and traditionally eaten as a vegetable in Mexico. They have a chilli kick, but are similar in size and taste to a green bell pepper. They are prepared as rajas by charring over a flame until the skin has turned black. The poblanos are then left to cool before the skin is removed. They are then cut up into strips (rajas means strip) and added to rice or eaten as an extra like we do with red, orange and green peppers. When they are fully ripe they turn an almost black shade of reddish green. This is when they are picked to be dried. They intensify in flavour and have a sweet, almost prune like taste along with a chilli hit. They can also be soaked whole and when they have rehydrated, stuffed and eaten as a main dish.
Preparing and using dried chillies is great fun, but they can be difficult to find and expensive when you do find them. I love cooking with them and wanted to share the experience.