We had a chile meeting at work today, taught by chef Rick. Making dried chile sauces is the heart of our restaurant- its what we do best. Big chiles like the ancho, pasilla, mulatto, chihuacle, and guajillo are the base for sauces. The dried chiles are cooked twice- first they are toasted which increases the complexity of flavor. Then the toasted chiles are soaked in water blend and cooked down. Boiling out the water and cooking the chiles down to a paste brings out all the sweetness. It’s the single most important part of making a chile sauce. Little ones or hot peppers like arbol, cascabel, morita, chipotle and pequin may also be used in sauces- because of these chiles’ smaller size those sauces usually also contain tomato or tomatillo.
Chiles mature from green in color to red. The flavor changes accordingly, from grassy to sweet. Some chiles, if left on the vine, will dry naturally. Jalapeños’ flesh is too thick for that- they will rot. Thousands of years ago the native Mexicans pioneered the force drying of chiles. They dug a smoky fire pit, placed a covering over that and put the jalapeños on top. The combined heat from the sun above and the fire below force dried the chile. The word chipotle means dried chile in the Aztec language, Nahuatl- chīlpōctli, from chīlli for chili pepper + pōctli for smoke, something smoked.
We tasted many different chiles and took tasting notes. Some chiles such as the guajillo were bright, bold and tangy, high in acid and reminscent of sun dried tomato. Others like the ancho had the flavors of dark dry fruit and sweet spices, with hints of milk chocolate, raisins and nuts. Chef Rick did not like comparing the chile to the obvious candy, however. “The thing about raisinettes is they don’t have big bold flavor,” he said. “They’re neither really flavorful as chocolate nor as raisins.”