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Jun 23, 2008 02:01 PM

Help me solve a Poblano mystery (pepper related) [Moved from Mexico board]

I recently spent an amazing week with friends in Mexico (DF and Puebla). I ate a ton of great food (from escamoles to tacos arabes) but one meal stands out above all others: a home-made sandwich assembled from ingredients gathered in a Poblano market.

It basically consisted of two types of cheese (rope-like mild Oaxaqueno and a harder, salty, feta-like cheese, creamy melt-in-your-mouth avocado, mystery peppers, all coated with a generous squeeze of lime on fresh, crusty rolls.

You can see a picture of this amazing lunch here:

I would love to relive this experience at home in the USA, but have been unable to figure out exactly what the peppers were in this sandwich. They were purchased in a covered clear plastic cup filled with liquid from a market stall in Puebla. They had a mild-medium heat without being overpowering, and a gentle smokiness and acidity. If I were to provide a vague description, I would guess that they were some kind of dried chipotle pepper with the seeds removed, soaked in a diluted vinegar until they were soft enough to easily chew.

Does anyone out there have any ideas on what these peppers might have been? Even better (since I have never seen anything like this for sale elsewhere), how I might be able to make my own batch? Thanks!

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  1. Looks like a basic ancho, which is of course a dried poblano. The drying process often imparts a smoky flavor. You can buy them dehydrated either loose stock or bagged (loose stock is much cheaper) in most latin and mexican markets, and re-hydrate them. My favorite pepper. Varying degrees of heat, but all within an acceptable range ,and great flavor.
    A chipotle that size would have been a near-fatal experience.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      Thanks for the insight. I will give that a try (I actually have a few dried anchos in my freezer from a previous chili). Are re-hydrated dried chiles a common Mexican condiment?

      1. re: paulmtl

        As common as toilet paper. Many markets will have a dozen or more types of dried chilis, plus a variety of chili pastes. And they are not condiments; they are primary ingredients.

        1. re: Veggo

          Thanks again for your insight. I'll give steaming a shot and update with progress. This was the only time I ever came across re-hydrated dried chilis in a plastic cup. I certainly saw no shortage of dried peppers.

        2. re: paulmtl

          I recommend steaming them to reconstitute them, so they will have some texture. Immersion in water depletes their flavor, and they get mushy. Many soupy (caldo) recipes are designed with enough liquid to include them with no intervening steps, but duplicating your sandwich is different.

          1. re: Veggo

            Veggo, what is your steaming technique? Similar to sweating a fresh chile after charring or something completely different?

            1. re: DiningDiva

              Most fresh peppers, from Hatch, poblano, jalapeno, and most sweet peppers, can be roasted, steamed and peeled. The new hybrids of Anaheim and Cubanelle are not worth the effort.
              There is no need to try to peel the myriad of lucious dried chiles available in Mexico; and I think beyond being not useful, it would be impossible.
              I use my asparagus steamer, above about an inch of boiling/hot water, to reconstitute dried peppers, and I watch them carefully as they absorb water quickly when the conditions are right and their wrinkles are gone, And then don't give them another second, they are ready for whatever is next in their destiny.
              Feliz mole!

              1. re: Veggo

                Jacqueline Higuera McMahan talks about steaming in her book 'California Rancho Cooking'. Apparently it's an old Californio technique.
                Personally, I haven't found a problem with the soaking method, especially if it's for 15 minutes or so. I don't use hot tap water. I put a pot to boil while I'm toasting the chiles and by the time I'm done, the water is plenty hot for soaking. I just turn off the heat and let them rest.

              2. re: DiningDiva

                P.S. For me to give advice on anything Mexican to you, or Cristina, or Eat Nopal... seems totally upsidedown and incorrect. You three are my idols.

                1. re: Veggo

                  Wow, thanks for including me in such esteemed company. I was really intrigued by your steaming idea for dried chiles. Are you toating them before steaming or simply just steaming? I'm asking because I've got some dried chiles I need to use because they've been around a while and I thought it might be a fun experiment to try steaming and see what happens.

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    If they have been around a while as you indicate they are probably so desiccated that roasting would just burn them up. Try a few at a time with a steamer and get a feel for how they respond. Let us know...buena suerte.

                    1. re: Veggo

                      You're on. I'll do some just by steaming and some by toasting and then steaming and report back on my findings. I'm intrigued by the concept and chiles are inexpensive and forgiving.

        3. The original comment has been removed
          1. Hi Paul,
            I think that your original impulse is right and that this is the same chipotle in adobo that is used in the construction of the great cemita poblana. I described this chipotle many years ago in the original post on Taqueria/Cemitas Puebla here in Chicago:


            On that thread, I went on to report (not on opening post but in one of my replies) that the owner of this shop told me that his homemade chipotle pickle is prepared with piloncillo since the chipotle that is traditionally used in this great sandwich should be slightly "dulzon".

            Many years ago, extramsg of the Portland OR board visited Chicago and fell in love with the cemita. I COULD SWEAR that he went on to cajole Tony (the owner's son) into parting with his family's recipe for the chipotle or maybe I am misremembering. I can't find extramsg's email at the moment to see if he can confirm this bit of memory. If anyone reading this catches him on one of the other boards or knows his address, could he be sent a heads-up to this thread?


            9 Replies
            1. re: RST

              Thanks for the insight, Richard.

              One of my traveling companions remembers it being slightly sweet, so this sounds like a good possibility. It was definitely unlike any canned chipotles en adobo though in that the rehydrating liquid was water-based, and not tomato-based. It also had much less heat.

              1. re: paulmtl

                What am I missing here? The torta in your photo looks delicious, but the pepper is not a chipotle.

                1. re: Veggo

                  Hi Veggo,
                  Actually I made the deduction using Paul's excellent tasting notes in the original post (would that more posts had descriptions as precise!). From it, I surmised that it could only have been the chilpocle/chipotle, which is the most common chile used as condiment in the eastern states (Puebla, Veracruz etc) and which is commonly found in sandwiches throughout the region. In these areas, these chiles are usually called chiles secos (i.e. dried smoked jalapenos/xalapenos). Paul's tasting notes:

                  They were purchased in a covered clear plastic cup filled with liquid from a market stall in Puebla. They had a mild-medium heat without being overpowering, and a gentle smokiness and acidity. If I were to provide a vague description, I would guess that they were some kind of dried chipotle pepper with the seeds removed, soaked in a diluted vinegar until they were soft enough to easily chew

                  The chile on the picture has the same tell-tale wrinkled deep-red color of the seco. I could not tell of course if it is bigger than a usual chilpocle (about 2 1/2 inch long at most//the chile on the pic seems to have been opened up) but Paul's description of "smokiness" seems to be the give-away. Chilpocles of course can be extremely fiery, but it is a normal to "liberarles lo picante" (to quote a recipe I found for a similar item) by various techniques in the preparation of such pickles.

                  I consulted a few cookbooks I have at home and came up with the ff procedures. The ff is by no means meant to be an exact recipe but is intended to give a general idea of what I think were the steps that led to Paul's chiles (after reading the ff, reread Paul's notes again, specially the part about "seems to be in diluted vinegar etc" and you will see how well it matches). It points in a general direction; hopefully others will fill in the blanks.

                  First of all I remembered a fabulous recipe Patricia Quintana published in Food Arts (May 2005 I think) for chiles rellenos in the style of Naolinco (a marvellous little town in Veracruz; more on it below) which is quite similar to the one served at Dona Josefina Restaurant in Naolinco (Patricia's recipe has wonderful refinements: such as calling specifically for the falda cut for the stuffing). These chiles rellenos are made with the secos which in this region is always smoked dried xalapenos (elsewhere, serranos might be smoked which is why we use names like mecos, moras, moritas to distinguish diff types of chipotles).

                  Her first steps call for taking 15 chipotle chiles (she calls for moras), 1/3 cup piloncillo, 3 tbsp instant coffee (ideally Latin-American coffee she says) in one cup water. Bring to boil, reduce to medium, simmer till chiles are softened which she says is about 5-8 minutes.

                  The use of instant coffee is her "truc". Traditionally a similar amount of wood ash would be included in the water to tone down the heat of the chiles. She claims that coffee would have the same effect-I have not tested this at all!!! (She also insists on piloncillo and not brown sugar as the latter doesn't have the molasses flavor of piloncillo//the recipe for Naolinco-style chiles rellenos from Dona Josefina calls for 50 gr chiles, in 3 liters water and 5 tbsp sugar, cooked 10-15 minutes).

                  In making salsas with secos/chipotles, some people might add a tiny amount of non-fiery ancho but this alters the flavor. Or the chipotles might be painstakingly deveined (in which case they become "chipotles capones"). But the point is that for this type of pickle (diff from the process of making salsa), you want to end up with "mild-medium heat" (to use Paul's description above).

                  (BTW Paul, jitomates are not used in these kinds of adobos unless you want to make a salsa with this chile. It's a very diff thing: you toast the chiles, soak in water, grind, add other ingrdients like garlic, perhaps tomato etc).

                  We part ways with Patricia at this point (she wants to make chiles rellenos, we want to pickle chipotles). We continue with a recipe for Cordoba-style chipotles which I found in the 1992 La Cocina veracruzana published by the Government of the State of Veracruz (Cordoba is in Veracruz state, about 3 1/2 hr e of Puebla). It calls for 100 gr chipotles (recipes says capones), 2 liters water, 1 large piloncillo (a whole cone!!!).

                  Boil, simmer as above, then when the chiles are ALMOST ready, ADD two cups of vinegar.

                  Turn off heat and cool.

                  Pour into a large jar and add aromatics (2 kilos onion, 1 head garlic, bay leaf, thyme, oregano, salt etc) into jar. Top with 1/3 cups of olive oil or to cover.

                  Macerate for 24 hrs before using.

                  I think that the above procedures should come up with a product pretty close to what Paul tasted (give and take differences in balance of sweet to sour to fiery to smokey etc). The chipotles used in Puebla (city) should be VERY close if not exactly made like this.


                  off-topic on Naolinco, Veracruz

                  This is a town I love very much-one of the most beautiful in an area full of beautiful towns. Not big enough to have its own market or even a "true" market day-although they DO have a dia de plaza (the day of the food stalls) which is Sunday, when the main square fills up with excellent food business and roving ice cream carts and vendors selling the typical sweets of the region. The town also boasts gastronomic destinations in the form of two wonderful regional restaurants: Pilatos, and Dona Josefina, the latter which I prefer, although the former has wonderful regional delicacies as well, and is very pleasant. Dona Josefina also has a sweets business in front featuring marvellous things such as an unforgettable ate de peron. Naolinco is also home to one of the most famous maskmakers in all Mexico. Some fantastic terra-cotta wares made in a nearby town as well.


                  1. re: RST

                    As a sommelier who makes a living teaching waiters how to write tasting notes, I have a special appreciation for exact tasting notes-and Paul's is almost a textbook example of what "I" expect from a description: it has all the salient points that allow me to reconstruct the taste at a distance. A fellow sommelier like Melanie from the SF Board would understand what I mean.

                    I barely even gave the photo linked on the original post a glance. As those who know my work know very well, I have a Jewish-Moses' abhorrence of imagery (this-spoken by a Chinese boy!!!!) Images never reveal the whole truth but words always do (even if they were written with the intention to deceive). Maybe this is why I have stayed loyal to over the years and have not moved to other boards-because words takes precedence here over imagery.

                    Living in Chicago, I have easy access to the correct smoked jalapenos called chipotles-specifically those from a vendor "bajo el puente (under the viaduct)" at Maxwell Street Market which I have taken several visiting chowhounds to over the years. I realize that most people elsewhere in the US are familiar only with the canned stuff which is nothing like the real thing. Paul, if you cannot find the same chiles in your city, I would be glad to send you some by mail (email me at opplicario at But I am heading for a couple of busy weeks and might not be able to get to this for a bit.

                    The whole point of the excursus re Patricia Quintana is to point out that although chipotles are famously fiery, the fieriness is quite often tamed ("emasculated" like capons) before use. The Patricia Quintana recipe is from Food Arts Jan/Feb 2005 BTW not May. For those who are interested, she cooks the falda in water with thyme and oregano for 1 1/2 hr till shreddable, then she pulls. (Falda is the boneless end of the St. Louis cut spareribs, it has fibrous msucles). If I were doing this here in Chicago, I would probably just head to a carnitas specialist and ask for a 1/4 pound of a similar type of pork muscle. The pulled pork is then cooked in a picadillo (onion, garlic, carrots, raisins, clove and cinnamon etc), stuffed into the chipotles, the whole thing battered, and then fried. YUM!

                    1. re: RST

                      RST, I have tried to thank you for your wonderful information on your previous post (maybe I'm having problems on my end) but I'll try again, with thanks for the previous two.
                      buen provecho

                      1. re: RST

                        I only hope that my tasting notes were accurate. They may have been blurred by a several month lapse between the tasting and being moved to start this thread. At the time I was eating them, I didn't think of trying to recreate it myself.

                        I will see what my local Mexican food store (there is only one decent one that I know of here in Pittsburgh with our virtually nonexistant latino population) can provide in terms of ingredients but I am immensely thankful of your offer to help fill any gaps from Chicago. I will keep you posted!

                        1. re: paulmtl

                          Feel free to give a holler if you need any of the ingredients. The chile vendor I mentioned above can be seen in this post by foodfirst, a longtime hound dating from the old (anyone even remember it?) International Board:
                          I REALLY should make it myself right?-since it is seems so easy-but I am lazy and I don't REALLY cook (I just eat) so I am eagerly awaiting your results.
                          The recipe didn't specify, but I would probably not use crumbled dried thyme and oregano, but would use whole stalks tied in a bouquet.
                          I'll continue to keep my eyes open for other possible answers to your "mystery" in case the above doesn't work out

                      2. re: RST

                        Thanks so much for this amazing wealth of information. I'm heading back home (to Montreal) for the Canada Day long weekend but when I settle back in my kitchen next week, I will give this procedure a try and update you with the results.

                        Thanks again!

                    2. re: paulmtl

                      A chipotle would be 1/3 the size of the chile in the torta. The chipotle is nothing more or less than a smoked jalapeƱo.

                      Your chile looks to me to be the size and shape of an ancho, which is what Veggo said in the first response.