Dried chiles are easy to keep and, once rehydrated, add wonderful flavors to a variety of foods. They're a staple in Mexican and Tex-Mex recipes, but you'll find ways to add them in other dishes, too. Once my favorite dried peppers are "brought back to life" and reduced to a thick or thin paste, they become my personal "Mexican stock." I prefer the longer method, which means hours on the stovetop at a simmer and then a rest. This way, the entire house is filled with the aromas that lead to some fine home cooking.
My peppers of choice are a great foursome, which includes chile de arbol for extra heat. Following the steps below, you can mix and match with whichever varieties you find locally. Here are my favorites - each brings its own unique flavoring to the mix.
Guajillo - this is the basic choice for many Mexican dishes, including mole sauces and Chile Colorado. It's perhaps most popular in the central regions of Mexico as well as northern areas. Usually, it reaches a lower mid-heat level. The tough papery skin is red to dark-red and takes longer to rehydrate than most peppers. It is not generally used in its fresh form.
Ancho - these peppers live up to their name: "wide." They're actually dried poblanos and that means they lean toward the mild side. Another popular inclusion in moles.
Pasilla - confusion surrounds this variety as it's sometimes referred to as ancho. In its fresh form, it is known as the chilaca pepper. Classically used in moles and adobo sauces. Generally mild, it can sometimes surprise with a little heat.
Chile de arbol - This Jalisco native is packed with heat. You'll surely want to don gloves for handling and the dust can even cause a little distress for some. This is a smaller pepper and - dried or fresh - it goes by the same name.
In rehydrating peppers, you can remove seeds and membranes, if desired. We leave them in, then strain later. Some cooks may find membranes add a bitter taste, but I tend to disagree.
Once you have a basic paste, you can create amazing sauces. Adding an onion while simmering and sitting seems to enhance the flavor combinations. Better yet, your basic stock will freeze well.
Let's get started, because I want your kitchen to smell as good as mine with all those aromas wafting around.
How to Rehydrate Dried Chile Peppers
Long Method: Rinse dried peppers well. Remove stems. At this point, you can also shake out the seeds or cut apart to remove membranes. Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Cut an onion in chunks and add to the pot. Add peppers, cover, and reduce to a simmer (2 hours for smaller peppers; 4 hours for larger varieties. If it's a mix, just use the longer simmer time). After 2-4 hours, turn off heat and leave for another 3-4 hours. Place a strainer over a large bowl and pour out to reserve liquid. In a food processor, add the peppers and some liquid. Puree and continue to add liquid as needed, at least 2-3 minutes, until you have a medium consistency paste. Remove from processor bowl and add into a strainer, over a bowl, a little at a time. Use a spoon to mash the pulp and push out the liquid/paste. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze in small batches.
Short method: Cut peppers into squares or strips. Place in a bowl and add boiling water. Add a plate or cover on top to keep peppers in liquid. Let sit for about one hour or until pieces are pliable. Reserve liquid and process following the above steps.
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