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Other Methods of Drying and Making Powders PDF Print E-mail

By Dave DeWitt, Nancy Gerlach, and Jeff Gerlach; photos by Harald Zoschke

Another way to dry chiles, and in fact, nearly the only way to dry some of the thick-fleshed chiles, is to use a food dehydrator. Jalapeños and several other chiles simply will not air dry. They will, however, dry well in a dehydrator. Simply place them in a single layer on the racks and follow the instructions for your model. Cutting the thick fleshed chiles in half, or into several pieces helps to speed up the process.

Drying chiles in a dehydrator

Orange and Caribbean Red Habaneros, cut in half, are drying in an inexpensive
"Mr. Coffee" dehydrator

Many people think that drying in an oven is just as effective, which unfortunately, is not always the case. Dehydrators supply not only heat, they also constantly circulate air through the unit. Ovens usually supply only heat, which means that meaty chiles could possibly spoil, rather than dry. If you do use an oven, use the lowest possible heat. Cut the chiles in half, remove the seeds, and place on a baking tray. Check the chiles every hour or so to make sure they are not burning. When they are brittle, they are ready.

It's possible to dry chiles in a microwave oven. By chopping the chiles into small pieces and microwaving them in small quantities, chiles can be dried in no time at all, especially the smaller, thin-fleshed varieties. However, this method will not work for whole pods.

Roasted and peeled fresh green New Mexico chiles can also be dried, and, in fact, drying fresh green was the only way to preserve it in the days before freezers. See the recipe which follows. A word of warning: don't get upset by the appearance of the dried green since it turns black and looks more like road-kill than anything you'd want to eat! However, when rehydrated, it plumps up, turns almost green, and is extremely tasty.

Making Powders

All dried chiles can be ground into powder—and most are, including the habanero. Crushed chiles, or those coarsely ground with some of the seeds are called quebrado. Coarse powders are referred to as caribe, while the finer powders are termed molido. The milder powders, such as New Mexican, can also be used as the base for sauces, but the hotter powders such as cayenne and piquin are used when heat is needed more than flavor.

Making chile powder with a coffee grinder

A cheap electric coffee grinder is perfect for
for making chile powders. But unless you want
"hot coffee", you should use separate grinders
for coffee beans and chile pods...

Adventurous cooks can experiment with creating powders of specific colors. For example, collect the different varieties of green, yellow, orange, red, and brown chiles and separate them into their respective colors. The colors of the powders vary from a bright, electric red-orange (chiltepins), to light green (dried jalapeños), to a dark brown that verges on black (ancho). The colored powders can then be combined with spices, as in our recipe for Chili Powder (below), or they can be stored for later use. Another use for the powders is to turn them into green, yellow, orange, red, or brown chile pastes. Since some of the colors of the powders tend to be a bit dull, they can be brightened up by adding a few drops of the appropriate food coloring when making the pastes.

In some kitchens, there are more powders available than the whole pods because the powders are concentrated and take up less storage space. Store the powders in small, airtight bottles. The fresher the powders, the better they taste, so don't grind up too many pods. Use an electric spice mill and be sure to wear a painter's mask to protect the nose and throat from the pungent powder. Many cooks experiment by changing the powders called for in recipes.

Chile Pasado

(Chile of the Past)

Here is the way green chile was preserved before the invention of canning and freezers. This method assumes that you live in a dry climate like New Mexico or Arizona. If not, remove the stems from the chile and place the pods in a food dehydrator until brittle. You can place them in an oven set at the lowest heat possible, but you must monitor them carefully. There are about 10 medium-sized pods to a pound.

  • 2 pounds New Mexico green chile pods (about 20 pods)

  • String

Roast the chile pods on a charcoal or gas grill until the pods blister and start to turn black, turning often. Remove them from the grill and place in a plastic bag with a wet paper towel for ½ hour. Remove and carefully peel the skin off, leaving the stem and seeds intact. Tie four pods together by wrapping string around the stems and place over a line outside in the sun. Do not let the chiles get wet by rain, and you can protect them from flies and other insects with by wrapping them lightly in cheesecloth. Drying time varies with humidity levels, but dry them until they are very dark and brittle. To store, break off the stems and place the dried pods in a zip bag and then place in a second zip bag. Place in the freezer for optimum results, especially if you live in a humid climate. Because they are brittle, breaking off the stems will sometimes cause the pods to break into strips and other pieces.

Chile Pasado strips

Chile Pasado strips, dry (L) and rehydrated (R)

To reconstitute the pods, place them in a pot of boiling water for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let stand for five minutes. Remove from the water and drain. Use them in any recipe calling for green chile in any form except whole pods.

Yield: About 3 ounces

Heat Scale: Varies but usually medium

For more Chile Pasado info, click here


Dried Chile Recipes

Ancho Chile Dry Rub

Here’s a great rub to use on meats that will be smoked or grilled. Since anchos are sold in fairly pliable condition, place them in the oven on low heat until they are brittle.

  • 4 ancho chiles, stems removed and seeded, dried in the oven

  • 2 teaspoons whole white peppercorns

  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

  • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed

  • 3 and 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed

  • 1 teaspoon thyme

  • 1 small bay leaf

  • 1 teaspoon annato seeds

  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt

Blend together all the ingredients in a spice mill or blender. Pack in a glass jar after using.

Yield: About ½ cup

Heat Scale: Mild

Cajun Rub

Here’s a concentrated rub that has its origins in Louisiana, where it seems that every home cook has his or her own secret spice mixture for grilled foods. This rub works well on fish and is especially good on shrimp. Sprinkle it on the seafood and allow it to marinate at room temperature for about an hour. This rub is also good on chicken before it’s grilled.

  • 1 tablespoon paprika

  • 5 cayenne pods, seeds and stems removed, ground into powder

  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1 teaspoon onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 bay leaf, center stem removed, crushed

  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a spice grinder and process until finely ground. Store any unused rub in a sealed container in the freezer.

Yield: 2 ½ tablespoons

Heat Scale: Medium

South of the Border Chile Rub

This is our version of Mexican flavorings that would work on goat, as in cabrito, pit roasted goat. Can’t find goat at Winn-Dixie? Use this rub for either grilling or smoking beef, pork, and lamb.

  • 3 tablespoons ground ancho chile

  • 2 teaspoons ground chile de arbol

  • 2 teaspoons ground chipotle chile

  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano, Mexican preferred

  • 2 teaspoons onion salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon powdered garlic

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Store any unused rub in a sealed container in the freezer.

Yield: approximately 2/3 cup

Heat Scale: Hot

Chili Powder

This powder is used to make chili con carne and replaces the commercial type; experiment with the ingredients and adjust them to your taste.

  • 5 tablespoons ground New Mexican red chile

  • 1 tablespoon ground hot chile, such as piquin or chiltepin

  • 1 ½ tablespoons ground cumin

  • 1 ½ tablespoons ground oregano

  • 1 ½ tablespoons garlic powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

Mix all the ingredients together and process in a blender or spice grinder until fine. Store the excess powder in a glass jar.

Yield: ½ cup

Heat Scale: Hot

Dry Jerk Seasoning

Jerk seasoning is actually a delicious, tropical way to grill. Use it to season either pork or poultry; simply rub into the meat, marinate overnight in the refrigerator, grill (or bake), and then enjoy!

Dried chiles, whole and ground

If habaneros are unavailable,
dried hot chiles like cayenne
can be used for this seasoning

  • 1 teaspoon dried ground habanero chile or substitute other hot powder such as cayenne

  • 2 tablespoons onion powder

  • 2 teaspoons ground thyme

  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice

  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine all the ingredients and mix well. Store the extra seasoning in a glass jar.

Yield: About 1/4 cup

Heat Scale: Hot

Curry Powder

Curry powder is always a combination of various ingredients, and much like chili con carne, there is no such thing as a definitive recipe. There are instead as many curry recipes as there are curry cooks. Use this recipe as a starting point and make additions or adjustments according to your tastes. Homemade curry powder is a wonderful treat for your taste buds.

  • 5 tablespoons ground New Mexican red chile

  • 3 tablespoons ground coriander

  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin

  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger

  • 2 teaspoons ground cayenne

  • 1 teaspoon cardamom seeds

  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice

  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves

  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Mix all the ingredients together and process in a blender or spice grinder until fine. Store the excess powder in a glass jar.

Yield:1 ½ cup

Heat Scale: Mild

Red Chile Sauce from Pods

This basic sauce can be used in a variety of Southwestern dishes that call for a red sauce, as well as in place of ketchup when making salad dressings and other dishes. Other large dried chiles such as guajillo, pasilla, or ancho chiles can be added or substituted. This sauce will keep up to one week in the refrigerator, or you can freeze it.

  • 12 dried whole red New Mexican chiles

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped

  • 3 cups water

Place the chiles on a baking pan and put in a 250° oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until the chiles smell like they are toasted, being careful not to let them burn. Remove the stems and seeds and crumble the pods into a saucepan.

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until the chiles are soft.

Puree the mixture in a blender or a food processor and strain. If the sauce is too thin, place it back on the stove and simmer until it is reduced to the desired consistency.

Yield: 2 to 2 ½ cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Red Chile Sauce from Powder

This is a basic recipe that can be used interchangeably with any of the mild red chile powders. (If this sauce were made from some of the hotter powders such as piquin, it would be too hot to eat!) Adjust the amount of powder to change the pungency of the sauce.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 3 to 4 tablespoons New Mexican red chile powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)

  • 3 cups chicken stock or water

  • Salt to taste

In a pan, heat the oil and saute the onions and garlic until they are slightly browned. Add the flour and continue to cook for 4 minutes, stirring constantly, until the flour is browned, being careful that it does not burn.

Stir in the chile powder and cumin and heat for a couple of minutes.

Add the broth, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until the desired consistency is obtained. Salt to taste.

Variation:  For a smoother sauce, either puree the onion and garlic or substitute 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder and add along with the chile powder.

Yield: 2 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

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