Technique Post: Cooking with Dry Chiles

Tutorial for working with dehydrated chiles to make sauces and marinades

You've probably seen dehydrated chile peppers at the store - guajillo, ancho, and pasilla are the common ones. You can hand pick the ones you like from produce bins at Hispanic or Asian stores, or buy a bag of them at most grocery stores in the aisle with Latin foods. This post contains the basics on how to use them most effectively.

If you're choosing your own, I like to pick flatter, shinier ones, just for ease of use. As a rule, smaller peppers are spicier, so I generally get the largest ones I can find that fit the other criteria, so that most of the impact is on flavor.

Take however many the recipe calls for - usually one or two of a couple of different types - and get a cutting board and a paring knife out (or any small, sharp knife). First, cut off the stems. Then with your finger or knife, scoop out the seeds. (Obligatory warning: Your hands will be spicy! Do not do any of the following: touch your lips, take out your contacts, rub your nose. If you're worried about it, wear gloves or use a knife to do the dirty work.) For smaller peppers, I just cut it in half like I'm in science class and take the seeds out from top to bottom. With anchos, you can probably get away with just scooping them out right under the stem area.

This is essential if you're making a sauce with the chiles. Heat up a flat pan on medium high and put enough oil that you can tip the pan and coat the bottom. Then when it's been heating up for a few minutes, add the peppers in a flat layer.

Don't leave! You want them seared but not burned, or it'll get a bitter flavor. Give them just 15 seconds or so and then flip them to the other side. If you have any that are not flat (anchos are usually guilty of this), press them down with tongs. They're done when both sides are shiny and a little charred. Remove from the pan as they finish and put them in a big bowl - I used a glass measuring cup. All of them should be finished in about a minute, and definitely under two minutes.

Add enough hot water (I just turn the tap to the hottest and use that) to cover the chiles. Put a bowl or mug on top to weigh them down so they are fully submerged, and leave them for at least 20 minutes, up to 30 or so. They'll absorb the water and get pliable.


Use 'em:
While the peppers are rehydrating, cut up whatever ingredients you want to add. A basic enchilada sauce would use a half onion and some garlic, in addition to spices. I'm using my recipe for barbacoa sauce for this demo - so I've coarsely chopped an onion, peeled 6 cloves of garlic, and seeded 4 chipotle peppers. I've also added 2 tsp each of Mexican oregano and cumin, and a dash of ground cloves.

I made a heart with my chipotle!

I made a heart with my chipotle!

After 20 minutes, drain the peppers and put them into a watertight blender (like my precious Ninja). Add the aromatics (onions, garlic), the spices, some salt, about 1/4 vinegar (for marinades only - not for sauces like enchilada sauce or salsas - to help it penetrate the meat), and a cup of stock. I used a beef bouillon and a cup of water.  Some recipes will tell you to use the liquid you soaked the chiles in, but I find that it's pretty bitter, so I use a new liquid.


Blend it up until it's essentially liquid and then add it to a ziploc bag with the meat - in this case, a chuck roast, untrimmed.


Let marinade up to 48 hours and then slow cook or grill!

Suggested Soundtrack: "No Me Doy Por Vencido" by Luis Fonsi