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Jan 26, 2009 12:54 PM

When Life Gives You Dried Chiles . . .

...what do you do with them? I started going through my pantry earlier and found an abundance of dried chile peppers. I think I'd like to make chile powder, but I don't know which chiles combine well with others, and in what ratios. I like heat, but I don't want to end up with a killer powder that's so hot I can hardly use it.

I've made chile powder before, but I've always followed a recipe. In the past, I've toasted the whole, dried chiles in the oven for a few minutes, until they puffed up. Then I removed the stems and seeds and ground them in an old coffee grinder that's now used exclusively for spices. I assume that's a good way to toast them, but if there are other ways, I'm interested in hearing about them. The powder will be used in dishes like (what else?) chili, which I'm just as likely to make with ground turkey as I am to make it from chuck.

Let me add, these chiles have probably been in the pantry for about two months; I don't know if that matters. They've been in glass jars with tight-fitting lids. Here's the assortment I found:

Ancho Chile peppers
New Mexico Chile Pods
Chile Arbol
Chile Pasilla
Chile Guajillo
There are also some unidentified chiles, red, thin, about 2 inches long. I have no idea what they might be.

So, what should I do with my stash of chiles? Which ones will combine well? And, should I add in any cumin (I have whole cumin seed), oregano (I've got a new bag of Mexican Oregano from Penzy's), or anything else?

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  1. This is so timely - I was searching through my ancillary pantry (aka my coat cupboard) for some Indian ingredients last night, and noticed bags of many of the chiles as well, that I've never used. I keep meaning to dig up my Diana Kennedy book to come up with ideas.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MMRuth

      me too, MM - a big jar on the back of the shelf, full of different kinds in baggies...

      Diana Kennedy talks about some combinations in terms of punishing the eater (bad spouses, etc), so you're smart to think about which combine well.

    2. In the jars they should keep a lot longer than 2 mths. I have a gallon tupper that is my chili stash.

      I think it is better to keep them whole until you need them. Sometimes I will grind a small batch, to have something on hand to sprinkle in stews and other dishes. Ancho, pasilla and guajillo are all pretty mild, and can be used anytime you want a background, or 'base' note, of chile spice. The New Mexico ones may be mild, or may be hotter. It is hard to tell by name alone. Arbol are small and pretty hot.

      I don't think there is much advantage to pregrinding a mix for future use. Cumin and Mexican oregano are typical ingredients in competition chili, but I don't think there is much point in adding those to a chile powder mix before you need to use them.

      Another way of using them is to seed and then soak in hot water. Then you can pass them through a food mill to get a smooth puree without any skin. Or puree with food processor, blender, or immersion blender. Sometimes I'll make the puree as part of making a stew like chili. Other times I have made a puree and stored it in the fridge, but it's only going to keep a week or so. Commercial purees keep longer if they have sodium benzoate (sp?) to retard mold.

      1. i personally aim for making dried-chiliade

        1. Rick Bayless has smany recipes calling for the initial prep of those chilis... ancho, guajillo, arbol... etc.

          The following is a direct quote from just one recipe which uses the chilis... but it is the beginning for many recipes in his repetoire.....Here's the link to the site:

          "Toast the chile pieces a few at a time in a dry heavy skillet or on a griddle heated over medium, pressing them flat against the hot surface with a metal spatula until they are aromatic, about 19 seconds per side. In a bowl, rehydrate the chiles for 20 minutes in hot tap water to cover; place a small place on the top to keep the chiles submerged.

          Use a pair of tongs to transfer the rehydrated chiles to a food processor or blender. Measure in 1 cup of water, add the tomatoes and garlic and process to a smooth puree. Press through a medium-mesh sieve into a bowl....."

          It really does work!

          4 Replies
          1. re: Gio

            Totally agree about the 19 seconds per side. However, I recommend rehydrating the toasted chiles for approximately 23 and a half minutes rather than just 20.

            Seriously, I have a question: is it necessary to press the puree through a sieve? I've always done it, and I end up catching a lot of skin and pieces of seeds, but isn't it all edible anyway? I've seen plenty of recipes where the puree is dumped directly from the blender into the pot, without sieving.

            1. re: DeppityDawg

              Well....some chefs like a pureed/smooth sauce while others don't. I don't know how "authentic" a smooth sauce really is. I'm in the don't camp anyway. I don't totally puree some soups either.....

              Thanks for the tip about more minutes in the water.

              1. re: DeppityDawg

                You may need to experiment on your own. Whether you need to strain or not may depend on the type of chile, the effectiveness of your blender, and the cooking time of the sauce.

                I have often pureed the chiles in a food mill (without blending) which effectively separates skin from pulp. But with a recent chili I just pureed the peppers with the immersion blender, and put that puree in the stew without straining. In this case, the use of softer skin ancho and pasilla, the effective blender, and the long cooking time produced acceptable results. Guajillos have a tougher skin, so straining might be better. You might also want to strain when using the puree in a sauce that cooks only a few minutes.

              2. re: Gio

                paulj is correct - some dried chiles have skins that don't pulverize well. It's always good to put the pureed chiles through a sieve Before adding the other ingredients.

                BTW there are some very good salsa recipes on this site - use the search function especially on Recipes :-).

                You can 'wing it' easily - dried chiles + (tomato or tomatillo) + a little salt, hydrate overnight, taste for balance and heat. For reasons I've forgotten the acid ingredients do tend to reduce the 'heat' so maybe keep some toma* in reserve. Canned whole or diced tomatoes work fine - avoid tomato sauce and paste which won't taste fresh enough. Use more than one kind of chile for a nice complexity. Go real easy on the spices - they aren't that necessary.

              3. if you make chile powder, I would keep each pepper separate and would not add cumin, etc. you can add them to the individual dish. Arbol will make a very hot powder.

                I have made many of Rick Bayless' recipes from Mexican Kitchen which use all the dried peppers you mention, except maybe arbol. It is a good place to start.

                I try to always have a few chil powders around, so I understand the desire to make something with the chiles. However, the dried peppers will last for a long time whole as well. you don't have to use them right away, or for months and months.

                4 Replies
                1. re: cocktailhour

                  So then, when the recipe calls for "chile powder," which ones do you use? This gets back to my original question of which ones combine well. I know which are milder and which are hotter, but what about combining a couple of mild ones with a couple of hot ones? Are all chile peppers compatible with others?

                  1. re: CindyJ

                    DeWitt in 'The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia' claims to have a recipe that is close to that used by San Antonio chili queens (who were, supposedly, the inspiration for Gebhardt's commercial versions).

                    DeWitt's recipe uses 4 ancho, 1 serrano, 4 dried red New Mexican chiles, 1 T cumin, 2T dried Mexican oregano.

                    I have not read of a special compatibilities or incompatibilities. To dig further I'd suggest looking at Mexican cookbooks (e.g. Bayless, Kennedy) for recipes that use various dried ones, and online recipes for competition chili (e.g. International Chili Society).

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      My guess is that when a recipe calls for 'chili powder', they don't really care what blend I use. What they have in mind is a generic blend of a mild chile like the New Mexico red or ancho, cumin and oregano, salt, and maybe a touch of something hot. In most cases the authors couldn't tell the difference between ancho and pasilla powders.

                      You'll notice from the multiple chili threads that different people have different ideas of what constitutes chili (the stew). For some it is a baroque meat and vegetable mix in which the chili powder is an incidental ingredient. For others it is pure beef stew in which the chile mix is critical.

                      1. re: CindyJ

                        I use ancho in many recipes--I like the round flavor, a bit of heat. Of course, one reason I do so is because I can buy ancho powder through penzeys, but not pasilla or guajillo. I know I can make my own powder, but I don't always. I would probably just try one and see how it goes, or free form a mix. I do think that they are all fairly compatible. You will have to learn from your own peppers which ones are smokier, or sweeter, or more astringent, through trial. I know I like lots of chili--I usually double the amount of chili powder in a recipe, but that is very much personal preference, and knowing the heat levels in my powders.