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Jul 7, 2013 08:27 AM

Pasilla chile substitute?

I have a recipe I want to make that calls for a Pasilla chile.

From what I can tell on the internet search, it looks like a pasilla chile is a dried chile.

I have both ancho and guajillo chiles dried. Could I use either of these?

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  1. Not a simple question. Depending on who wrote the recipe and where they were from, they could mean the poblano, which is incorrectly called a pasilla in some places (California, mainly). It's not a dried chile, since the dried poblano is always called an ancho.

    However, if they mean the dried pasilla, which is the dried form of the fresh chilaca, then I'd say the guajillo would probably be a better substitute, although the flavor is different.

    What do the instructions say to do with it?

    15 Replies
    1. re: JonParker

      It is actually in the Cookbook of the Month - Cindy Pawlcyn "Big Small Plates" on page 172. It is used in a corn soup.

      The recipe says 1/2 pasilla chile, seeded and finely minced. The chile is cooked with a leek in butter before being added to the stock. The recipe has no instructions for rehydrating the chile, so I initially assumed it was a fresh chile. However, when I looked up pasilla on the internet, a dried chile came up, so I was a bit confused.

      I do have some poblanos, so it would be quite easy if that is what is meant.

        1. re: stockholm28

          I googled her and found this:

          "Cindy Pawlcyn is an American chef best known for the restaurants she opened in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Napa Valley between 1983 and 2008."

          As a Californian, she probably does refer to the poblano as a pasilla, so i'd say you're good to go.

          1. re: JonParker

            As a native Californian I can assure you that I do not - and never have - called an ancho chile a pasilla. I would not assume that Cindy Pawlcyn meant a fresh or dried poblano. She is actually a chef that would know the difference between the two chiles, additionally, pasillas are not that difficult to source here in CA. You just have to know what you're looking for ;-). Long and skinny as opposed to shorter and wider.

            It is true, however, that anchos and pasillas can be interchangably mislabeled but that is hardly limited to California. AS SV pointed out, chiles in Mexico can go by different names depending upon where in the republic one is purchasing chiles, and they can be mislabeled there as well.

            As to the recipe...there is a difference in flavor profile between an ancho, a pasilla and a guajillo. The ancho will be fruitier, the pasilla, earthier and the guajillo hotter and sharper. Pasillas are ofter fried whole and then snipped into rings and used as a garnish; they crackle and mix into the dish providing pleasant hits of crunch and flavor as you eat. The pasilla does not need rehydration as it will begin rehydrating in the butter while sauteeing with the leeks and complete the process in the stock.

            Corn and poblano is a classic combination in Mexican cuisine whether using the fresh or dried chile. It will give the finished dish a sweeter, deeper flavor. I would probably be more inclined to use an ancho chile rather than a guajillo. The guajillo is one of the workhorse chiles of Mexico, but it's almost always paired with another chile to add nuance and depth of flavor the guajillo lacks on it's own.

            1. re: DiningDiva

              Thanks DiningDiva. If I use the ancho, can I just use it dry?

        2. re: JonParker

          It's not incorrect any more than it's incorrect to call coriander "cilantro" or eggplant "aubergine". Chiles have regional and sometimes conflicting names within Mexico and abroad. Frustrating and confusing, yes. Incorrect, no.

          1. re: Soul Vole

            Not a particularly good comparison -- those are examples where one food has two names; there's no real possibility of confusion. This is a situation where two foods have one name.

            1. re: dtremit

              And as this thread shows, there's value in using the same name to describe one thing, especially with recipes. If we call "nutmeg" "garlic" our dishes aren't likely to come out well.

              1. re: JonParker

                Yet that's the way it is. Like I said, frustrating and confusing, yes. But that's what they're named. You don't have to like it. I don't either.

                1. re: Soul Vole

                  Even at my Latino market (in Reno) they're labeled pasillas and the Mexican-Americans I've spoken to don't know that they're actually poblanos.

              2. re: dtremit

                True, not the best analogies. How about "pepper" then? What does piper nigrum have to do with capsicums? Apart from imparting a sharp flavor and some historical happenstance, nothing. One word being used to refer to very different things. It happens.

            2. re: JonParker

              This recipe uses a Fresh Green Poblano Pepper. which it sounds like you have.

              As far as the mis-nomenclature controversy it has been argued to death in another thread.

              1. re: chefj

                Right. When dealing with this nomenclature confusion the first question is: is it a large fresh pepper, or a dried one?

                If fresh, most likely a poblano is the right pepper. I won't even call that a substitute.

                If dried, the author probably has a long narrow one in mind, but an ancho is a reasonable substitute. That is, it has a similar heat level. There are differences in overall flavor, but not enough to matter to a beginner.

                1. re: paulj

                  Thank you Paulj. For once you and I agree 100% ;-D

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    Just tacking this on here, DD. I had to chuckle yesterday. The Latin market I frequent is Marketon in Reno. They have four other stores in Las Vegas. I checked their website for their weekly flyer and they showed beautiful poblanos as pasillas. I was going to post it but when I went to the next day, the new week's flyer was out and no poblanos/pasillas :)

            3. I don't have the book to check myself, but is there a section where she discusses her ingredients in more detail?

              1. In Pawlcyn's book, p172, she is clearly using 'pasilla' in the sense of fresh poblano. (e.g. roast till skin is blistered, put in bag and peel)

                1. Well, who knew that pasilla chiles could inspire such passion!

                  As far as what the author intended ... I went through the cookbook and I think she might mean a fresh chile when she uses the term pasilla. On page 298 there is a recipe for "stuffed pasilla chiles". Both the picture on page 299 and the instructions (roast till skins are blistered) make it pretty clear that she is using pasilla to mean a fresh chile. On the other hand, she has a recipe on page 256 that calls poblano chiles

                  Anyway, I ended up making the soup with a poblano as I had several that I bought at the farmers market this week.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: stockholm28

                    Yeah, it sounds like the author might not have a firm grasp on the (as discussed) sometimes ambiguous and confusing world of chile nomenclature. To my knowledge the only time "pasilla" refers to fresh chile it's an alternate name for poblano. So I'm guessing that "pasilla" in that context and "poblano" in the other actually refer to the same chile, and perhaps the author isn't even aware of this.

                  2. You can get them online at World Spice Merchants. The pasilla is very special, and worth the trouble.