Using chili/chile peppers
Chili peppers come in two major forms: fresh and dried. Fresh peppers will keep for slightly over a week in the fridge, while dried peppers keep for years. Select fresh peppers that are firm and unblemished and look for dried peppers that are slightly flexible, not brittle. Fresh peppers freeze very well and they can also be dried by the sun or in an oven. Fresh chili peppers develop a rich, earthy flavor when roasted. This process also makes it easier to remove the translucent skin of the pepper. A whole node is devoted to roasting peppers and removing skins, so go check out that advice here. Dried peppers often need to be softened in warm water before adding them to a dish.
Chili peppers vary greatly in hotness depending on the amount of capsaicin they contain. Hotness is traditionally rated by the Scoville system, which ranks peppers from 0 for bell peppers to 300,000 for habaneros. Most of the pepper’s heat is contained in the seeds and inside membrane of the fruit. This is why smaller peppers, which have a higher seed to flesh ratio, tend to be hotter than larger peppers. Removing the seeds and inner membrane of the chili pepper will drastically reduce its spiciness.
Use caution when cutting hot chili peppers. Once you are done, wash your hands, knife, and cutting board extensively to remove as much capsaicin as possible. Water alone does not remove the chemical so be sure to use a grease-cutting detergent. Do not touch your lips, nose, eyes (do NOT remove or insert contact lenses!), or other…sensitive areas. The best way to avoid any problems is to work with the peppers while wearing rubber gloves.
Major types of fresh and dried chili peppers:
Following are the most common types of fresh and dried chili peppers. They are rated from one to five stars depending on their hotness. Chilies with a similar level of heat can often be substituted for each other in dishes.
Fresh chili peppers
- Anaheim: (*) Also known as Hatch, Verde, or California long green pepper. This green or red pepper is about six to seven inches long with a tapered end. They have a mild flavor and make excellent chili rellenos. Their thick skin should be removed by roasting.
- Banana: (*) Also known as sweet banana or Hungarian wax pepper. These peppers range in color from yellow to orange-red and are long and tapered. They have a sweet, pungent flavor and pickle well, but their tough skin makes them difficult to roast.
- Cayenne: (****) These thin, long green or red peppers are the most commonly grown chili pepper in the world. While fresh peppers are difficult to find, the ground powder is common in most supermarkets. One fresh pepper is the equivalent of 1/8 teaspoon ground powder. They are an important ingredient in hot Cajun dishes.
- Cherry: (**) Cherry chili peppers are round and about the size of a large gumball. They can be either green or red, and they make excellent pickling peppers.
- Chilaca: (*) A long, twisted pepper black-green in color commonly found in Mexico. The more common poblano chili can be substituted. It is often fried, roasted, or stuffed with a savory filling.
- Fresno: (***) These peppers can be yellow, green, or red and are about three inches long with a tapered end. They look very similar to the more common jalapeno pepper, however they are slightly hotter with a more floral flavor. They are excellent in salsas.
- Habanero: (*****) One of the hottest chili peppers that can be purchased in a supermarket. The habanero looks like a squashed lantern and can be green, yellow, or orange. It looks similar to the equally hot Scotch bonnet chili, but it has a more floral flavor.
- Jalapeno: (***) These shorter, tapered chilies are probably the most common chili pepper in supermarkets. They range in color from green to red and are good in salsas, roasted, fried, or stuffed. Canned jalapenos can also be found, although they will not be as hot.
- Manzano: (***) Also spelled Manzana. This lantern-shaped chili is yellow to orange, much like its relative the habanero. It is commonly used in salsas.
- New Mexico: (**) These green or red chilies look similar to Anaheim chilies, but they are somewhat hotter.
- Poblano: (*) This long, dark green chili has a tapered end and a mild flavor like Anaheim chilies. They are also good roasted and used in stews, soups, or stuffed.
- Scotch bonnet: (*****) This chili pepper is essentially just as hot as the habanero but is slightly smaller. It is used often in Caribbean cuisine.
- Serrano: (****) Also known as chiles verdes. This pepper is thin and tapered with a thin skin that does not have to be removed after roasting. It is commonly used in Mexican cooking.
- Tabasco: (**) These short, small peppers are used to create Tabasco hot sauce.
- Thai: (*****) Noded more extensively in prik kee noo. There are several different kinds of chili peppers from Thai, but they tend to be all categorized as “Thai chili peppers.” They are only about an inch long and are extremely spicy. They are used extensively in Thai cooking.
Dried chili peppers
- Ancho: (*) These are dried poblano chilies. They are reconstituted to make soups and sauces, especially mole.
- Arbol: (****) Also known as chile de arbol. They are bright red, thin, tapered, and rather spicy.
- Chipotle: (***) These are dried and smoked jalapenos that are usually canned in an adobo sauce. They have a smoky flavor and are a nice addition to sauces.
- Guajillo: (**) These are red-brown and long and tapered. They are tougher than other dried chilies and need to be soaked for a longer period of time before adding them to a dish.
- Mulato: (*) These dark red chilies have a deep, mild flavor similar to chocolate. They are commonly used in sauces such as mole.
- New Mexico: (**) These red chilies are often strung into wreaths or ristra for decoration. They are also commonly ground into chile powder.
- Pasilla: (*) Produced from dried chilaca peppers. They are long and black and have a deep, earthy flavor. It is commonly used to make mole.
- Pequin: (****) These small, oval red peppers are rather spicy with a tangy flavor. They are used in sauces and are also fried whole and served as a condiment.
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