The subtly sweet, smoky undertone common to Mexican cuisine comes from chipotle peppers -- a ripe jalapeno dried with aromatic smoke. Store-bought chipotle powder may be as simple as ground chipotle peppers, or it may be incorporated into a seasoning blend of other herbs and spices. You can find powdered chipotle seasoning with the other spices at most grocery stores.
Jalapeno to Chipotle
Jalapeno peppers turn a deep red when they ripen on the plant. To make chipotles, the ripe jalapenos are dried over a wood fire on the metal grill of a smoker. The traditional technique calls for pecan wood, but hickory may also be used. Depending on the construction of the smoker and the juiciness of the jalapenos, the smoking process can take up to four days. Fully dried chipotles resemble prunes. Chipotles usually rate around 5,000 to 10,000 Scoville units, which makes them a medium-hot pepper.
Chipotle Seasoning Blend
If you're not satisfied with the Mexican spice blends at the store, you can make your own at home. Start with ground chipotle peppers (or grind your own using a spice grinder, coffee grinder or food processor). You can also add other ground peppers, such as ancho, habanero or cayenne. Round out the spice blend with earthy cumin, bright cilantro, grassy oregano or sweet cinnamon. Other herbs and spices common in Mexican cuisine include allspice, annatto, coriander, sage and thyme. Adjust the spice blend with each dish to give it a different flavor profile.
Chipotles in Abodo Sauce
You may find canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce at your grocery store next to the other canned peppers. In Mexico, chipotles in adobo spice up nearly everything, from sandwiches to stews to beans. Adobo sauce is made from pureed chili peppers (often ancho chilies), tomatoes, onions, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and spices like thyme, bay or marjoram. Rehydrated chipotle peppers are cooked in this sauce, and then the sauce and peppers are canned together.
Ground chipotle peppers or chipotle seasoning blends can be used in any recipe that calls for chili powder, although chipotle powder imparts a smokier, richer flavor than standard chili powder. Use chipotle powder in enchilada sauce or for seasoning beans for tacos or burritos. Bake sliced potatoes with olive oil and chipotle seasoning for hot and spicy fries. Use ground chipotle in place of paprika in deviled eggs. Mix a pinch of chipotle into mayonnaise for an exciting sandwich spread.
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