These bright-red dried chile de árbol (tree chile) are slender, pointed, and about four inches long. These chiles are really--but really--picante. Soak, toast and liquefy them to use in salsas, or dry-grind them to powder, then dust the chile, along with a pinch of salt and a squeeze of jugo de limón (lemon juice) onto raw fruits and vegetables. Start with just a little, though, till you know how much heat your palate will tolerate.
Generally when I see dried chiles in the United States or in Canada, they're packaged in sealed plastic bags and are not only dry, they're downright crisp and crunchy. They crackle when you touch them through the plastic. When you're buying dried chiles, try to buy them at a Latin market near you. If you're lucky, you'll be able to buy them in bulk--just the quantity you need for the recipe you're preparing--and they'll still be leathery and flexible. That's exactly how you want them to be. Those crisp, crackly chiles are old--who knows how old!--and completely past their prime.
Left on the plant to ripen to a deep mahogany red, then dried and smoked, the chile jalapeño becomes the chile chipotle. It's one of the spiciest of Mexico's dried chiles, and one of the most flavorful. Buy it at a market as you see it in the photo, or buy it canned en adobo (a delicious, dark, spicy sauce). You'll find canned chile chipotle at most Latin markets. If you can find La Morena brand, they're fantastic.
The chile morita will remind you of the chipotle because of its smoky fragrance and very spicy but sweetish taste. Some say the morita is the last of the mature jalapeño crop to be harvested (and therefore smaller than the earlier harvest); others say it's actually a smaller variety of chile jalapeño.
Chile cascabel (bell chile) has a mildly spicy, nutty flavor. It's the dried version of the fresh, red chile bola. Cascabel means "bell"--the sort of bell you might see on a cat's collar. Hold it by the stem, shake it, and you'll understand its name: the rattle of the dried seeds inside gives the name away.
Reconstituted by soaking and toasting, the familiar chile ancho is used for preparing salsas and many other common dishes. The mature fresh chile poblano, left on the plant to ripen to a deep, dark red, becomes the dried ancho. To make sure you are buying chile ancho and not chile mulato--the two are often confused and/or mislabeled--slice open one of the chiles and hold it up to the light. As the light shines through the chile, the ancho glows red, the mulato is mid-range brown.
The beautiful stained-glass-red of the chile ancho, held up to the light.
Chile guajillo, reddish-brown, flat, and about six or seven inches long, is one of the most commonly used Mexican dried chiles. Indispensable for preparing Jalisco's signature pozole rojo, the guajillo is also an ingredient in moles, adobos, and salsa picante. Here's a recipe for Mexico Cooks!' favorite mushroom appetizer, champiñones al ajillo:
Champiñones al Ajillo estilo Mexico Cooks!
Mushrooms in Garlic/Guajillo Sauce, Mexico Cooks! Style
1 lb good-size fresh white mushrooms
4-6 chiles guajillos, leathery and flexible
4-6 large cloves of garlic
Minced flat leaf parsley
Olive oil as needed
Sea salt to taste
Remove the stems from the chiles. Shake the seeds out through the stem opening and save them for another use in the future. Bring the chiles just to a boil in a pan of water. Turn off the heat and soak for about 30 minutes.
While the chiles are soaking, clean the mushrooms and cut the stems off, even with the caps.
Drain the chiles and pat dry. Cut them into 1/8" slices across their width.
Mince the garlic.
In a 12" skillet over medium heat, sauté the garlic in oil just until it begins to soften. Add the chile strips and sauté for a few minutes more. Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender. Sprinkle with minced parsley, add sea salt to taste, and toss very briefly. Plate and serve.
Serves 3-4 as an appetizer.
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