Cooking with Chiles

Chiles can add a spicy kick and bold flavor to almost any recipe, whether it’s meat, stew, salsa or salads. There are several varieties of chiles available—the degree of heat depends on the location its grown, the variety, and the time of harvest. In her cookbook, “Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations,” Chef Lois Ellen Frank, Ph.D., describes several types of chiles and ways to cook them.  

Types of chile peppers 
Anaheim green chile- The Anaheim green chile is about 6 inches in length, is green and has a medium to medium-hot flavor.  

New Mexico green chile- The New Mexico chile is typically hotter than the Anaheim green chile, but the two can be used interchangeably. Chef Frank notes its distinct sweet and earthy flavor, which is unlike any other chile in North America. 

Jalapeño– The jalapeño is about 3 inches long and has a hot to very hot taste. Jalapeños are typically eaten green, but can be ripened on the vine until red. They are usually added raw to salsas and sauces or used as a garnish. 

Serrano– Serano peppers are slightly smaller than jalapeños and can be substituted for them in most recipes. Serrano peppers are hot with a fresh, fruity flavor and are best when consumed fresh. 

Cayenne pepper– The cayenne pepper is about 4-7 inches long and red when mature. It can also be eaten green. Cayenne peppers are extremely hot with a sour, acidic flavor. They have been known to boost your metabolism, lower blood pressure and reduce risk of cancer. 

Cooking methods 
Chiles can be cooked many ways—whatever way you choose, make sure you wash fresh and dried chiles to remove dirt and other impurities. Never rub your eyes when handling chiles and wear gloves when touching them if you’re especially sensitive. Chiles can be stored in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 6 months. 

Open flame method– Place whole fresh chiles over a barbecue grill or gas stove with the flames at medium-high. Hold the chiles with metal tongs or a long fork. Turn the chiles every couple of minutes until the entire chile is charred. After they are charred, place the chiles in ice water, then run under cold water to rub the charred skins off. 

Oven method– Preheat your oven to 450 ° F and bake on a sheet for 20-30 minutes, turning frequently. Sweat chiles in a closed bag for 5-10 minutes. Peel each chile to remove charred skins. 

Frying method– Heat 1 inch of vegetable oil in a saucepan until hot but not quite smoking. Drop in chiles in a single layer until they are golden brown. Drain on paper towels and peel the charred skins off. 

Drying method– Roast and peel the green chiles using the oven method above. Hang chiles on a string of lay flat on a screen and let sit in the sun for 4 days, turning the chiles each day.  

Once you’ve cooked your chiles, you can start adding them to salsas, sauces, soups, salads and more. Get creative—the possibilities are nearly endless. 

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