We are all guilty of sacrificing flavor for convenience. Life gets in the way and you just want quick and easy to get out of the kitchen and get on with your life, am I right? I totally get why it happens. Trust me when I say this, every now and then you need to experience just how good things can be without shortcuts that take away flavor. Here’s why…
I love fresh cracked pepper. I wouldn’t be caught dead with a preground pepper anymore and my nutmeg is always freshly ground from the source, but when it came to recipes that called for chili powder, I reached for a jar, that was until I was enlightened by a blog posting I read on a blog called “One Man’s Meat“. In this post Conor used dried chilies to make his Texas Pork Chili. Until I read his post, I had always just pulled out the jar of chili powder from the cabinet. His post inspired me to make my own chili using dried chilies as the base of my sauce. I did some research and experimenting of my on about chilies and this is what I found:
Whole spices freshly ground have more flavor and aroma than preground spices. The same thing goes for whole dried chilies. They offer more flavor that you just can’t get from a jar of powder. Reconstituted dried chilies are much gentler, and are almost fruity in flavor. There are dozens of varieties of dried chilies available at local markets and each has its own special flavor and texture The flavors can range from smoky to earthy to sweet.
Did you know that there is a difference between Chile powder with an “e” and Chili powder with an “i”? The terms “chili” and “chile” are often used interchangeably across North America, but they don’t always mean the same thing. Chili powder is usually a blend of ground chile pods and other spices like cumin, peppercorn, and salt. Chile powder most often refers to pure ground chile pods with few or no additives; the only way to tell is to read the ingredient label.Using chili powder can result in harsh flavor in dishes. Store-bought chili powders limit you to whatever chilies the manufacturer has decided to use.
Picking the Best Dried Chilies
As mentioned on FOOD FACT FRIDAY ~ Chilies, there are many different varieties of chilies to choose from. Mexican cuisine popularity is at an all-time high, so it is easy to find a wide range of whole dried chili pods just about anywhere. Before grabbing the first ones off the store shelf, give them a squeeze, the best dried chilies are not brittle. If the chili is brittle that means that it was not stored correctly and it’s shelf life has expired. Chilies should be pliable and soft.
- If you’ve ever handled chilies and then touched your eyes or mouth, then you know that even the mildest chilies can irritate your skin. Believe me, I know this from when I made my hand burning chili a while back. Trust me, you do not want to experience a chili burn, so when handling chilies put on a pair of rubber gloves.
- If you do not like the heat, open up the chili lengthwise with kitchen scissors, then remove the stems, seeds and any light-colored veins inside the chilies. This step will remove most of the heat from the fruit. If you like spicy food, set aside some of the seeds to add a little extra heat. You can add a lot or just a little of the seeds to make things hotter.
- Once the seeds are removed, the chilies are traditionally toasted in a dry pan or skillet to intensify their flavor. Most chilies take just 30 to 40 seconds on each side to toast.
- Soak the chilies very hot water (There’s no need to use boiling water, which can actually leach out too much flavor) for about 30 minutes. If the chilies float too much use a clean heavy object to hold them down into the hot water. This will ensure that both sides of the chili become pliable.
- To transform the chilies into a sauce, remove the chilies from the soaking water. Ensure that stems are removed and add the chilies plus some of the soaking water to a blender and puree. It is important to know that the soaking water can be quite bitter, so do not use much. Actually, some other type of liquid that is already going to be used in the dish you are about to make would be a better choice.
- Strain the sauce to catch any large bits of skin or seeds that did not grind up.
- You now have red chili puree to make your favorite dish. If you taste the sauce, it is probably quite overbearing, and a bit bitter. In order to bring out the complexity and nuances of the chilies, the sauce must meld together with other ingredients, which cooks out the raw flavor of the chilies. After adding the chili sauce to your favorite dish, simmer a bit, then taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings to suit you. There are variations in flavor and heat. This is true even among the same variety of chili pepper. Consider adding honey or sugar if the sauce is too bitter, salt if the sauce is bland or reserved chili seeds if you want a little more heat.
Yes, it is a lot more work than opening a jar of powder or a store bought chili sauce but the flavors that come out of preparing the chilies yourself are so worth it. In tomorrow’s post I am going to show you how I made my new chili recipe. David and I agree 100% that it is the best chili I have ever made. Thanks for opening my eyes Conor!