How to Cook with Dried Chiles326
with Dan Baker
Test Kitchen Chef
I was born to love chiles. In the Central Valley of California, where I grew up, chile fields stretch as far as the eye can see. A substantial amount of the country’s chiles are grown in this area because the dry-heat of the valley is the perfect environment for hot peppers. For four generations, my family tilled soil and grew gardens in the Central Valley and I have many pleasant memories of harvesting several varieties of chile peppers with my father.
Now I love incorporating chiles into my cooking for a taste of home. If you’re looking for a way to spice up your cooking, dried chiles and chile powders are one of the simplest ways to experiment with this ingredient. There’s a whole world of chiles to explore, but first...
A Brief History
Chiles are a fruit that originated in Central America and were cultivated as far back as 5000 BC–spicy food has a long history in this part of the world. It wasn’t until the 1500s that chiles began being traded and selectively bred around the globe.
A Dash of Heat
The spice of a chile pepper is judged by Scoville heat units—the higher the Scoville units, the spicier the pepper. Bell peppers, for example, contain between 0-100 SHU, whereas a Scorpion Trinidad Chile has over 1 million.
Unlike salt or sugar, spicy heat is not recognized by taste buds. The “flavor” of spiciness is actually a chemical reaction that stimulates nerves and indicates pain. In chiles, this reaction is caused by capsaicin, a component concentrated in the pith (the white rib) and seeds of peppers. That’s why deseeding and removing the pith can make for a far less spicy result when cooking with chiles.
Types of Chiles & How to Cook with Them
We carry more than 20 types of dried chiles and chile powders, and each offers a unique flavor experience. Whether you like a lot of heat or just a touch, chiles can accentuate almost any savory meal. Know your heat tolerance and what kind of flavor profile you are trying to achieve when shopping for chiles, then have fun experimenting with different varieties and combinations.
There are a few ways to use whole dried chiles:
- Add to sauces, soups, and stews.
- Rehydrate by soaking in warm water for about 20 minutes (but not longer or they can become bitter), then chop as desired.
- Toast the chiles in a dry pan for added depth of flavor before grinding.
From mild to one of the spiciest peppers in the world, here are some of my favorite varieties to cook with:
Low Heat (1 on a scale of 1 to 10)
Anchos are the dried version of ripe poblano peppers and they are the most widely used chiles in Mexico. They have a deep red color and the mild heat is accompanied by prune-like notes and a faint smokiness. When ground, they are a common ingredient in chili powders and red chile sauces. Ancho chiles are also essential to many molés. If you’re not a fan of too much heat, but want to boost the flavor of enchiladas, salsa, soups, and more, this is the chile for you.
Medium-low heat (3 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10)
A more exotic variety, this chile comes from the Turkish town of Urfa. These purplish-black flakes have an earthy flavor, fruity notes, and a smoky aroma. They can be used in a similar way to Crushed Red Pepper, but offer a more complex heat and added depth of flavor. Try sprinkling Urfa on buttered popcorn or pizza, or mix it into cooked grains like rice, farro, or quinoa.
Try in: Mediterranean Buddha Bowl
Medium-high heat (6-7 on a scale of 1 to 10)
These bright red peppers, which are closely related to Cayenne Peppers and Pequin Chiles, have a higher heat level, so opt for this if you’re looking for that spicy kick. They work great in pickling and brining blends, as well as salsas—just soak for 20 minutes to rehydrate, then puree. I like to soak and clean several varieties of dried chiles (such as Arbol, Ancho, Pasilla Negro, and Guajillo) then combine with roasted onion, garlic, Ground Cumin, and salt. This combination of ingredients works great as a simple marinade or sauce, and can easily be adjusted for personal taste.
Intense heat (off the charts!)
Also known as Bhut Jolokia, these were the hottest chiles in the world back in 2007 and although they’ve since been eclipsed by hotter chiles, the power of the Ghost Chile should not be underestimated. With over 1 million Scoville heat units, they are more than 400 times hotter than your average jalapeno! These peppers are so hot, they are used as the base in some military-grade pepper sprays.
Precautions should be taken when working with these peppers: contact with them will cause an intense burning sensation. We recommend wearing latex gloves, a basic breathing mask, and safety goggles. Be sure to wash all utensils and workspaces thoroughly with soap and water when finished.
Whether you’re using Ground Ghost Chile or the whole peppers, it’s best to start with a very small amount to dishes like soups, curries, chilis, and salsas, then work your way up, tasting as you go. Remember that heat from chiles will intensify in dishes as they mature, so a dish that had perfect spice yesterday may be a bit too much tomorrow. It is best to err on the side of caution so that you can enjoy your culinary masterpieces. For a more accessible way to experiment with these extra-spicy peppers, try our Ghost Pepper Salt or Ghost Pepper Curry Powder.
Pro Tip: If you need to soothe the burn, skip the water and reach for milk, yogurt, or ice cream instead.
Do you have a favorite type of chile to cook with or any more questions about cooking with chiles? Let us know in the comments below.