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Pepper Profile: Serrano PDF Print E-mail

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Serrano Chile

The Plant

Agriculture

Culinary Usage

Recipe: Fresh Tomatillo Salsa with Serranos

The Plant

In Spanish, serrano is an adjective which means "from the mountains." The chile described by this adjective was first grown in the mountains of northern Puebla and Hidalgo, Mexico.

Serranos vary in habit from compact to erect, have an intermediate number of stems, and grow from 1 ½ to 5 feet tall. The leaves vary from light to dark green, are pubescent (hairy), and measure 3 ½ to 5 inches long and 1 ½ to 2 inches wide. The flower corollas are white with no spots. The pods grow erect or pendant, are bluntly pointed, and measure between 1 and 4 inches long and ½ inch wide. Serranos measure between 10,000 and 20,000 Scoville Units.

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Serrano Plant

Serrano Plant

Agriculture

Mexico has about 37,500 acres of serranos under cultivation, compared to only 150 acres in the United States, mostly in the Southwest. The states of Veracruz, Sinaloa, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas are the biggest producers of Mexican serrano chiles, growing about 180,000 tons of pods a year. Despite the proliferation of canned serranos, only 10 percent of the crop is processed. The vast majority is used fresh. A very small amount of red serranos is dried out for sale in markets. Recommended varieties are the Mexican cultivars 'Altamira,' 'Panuco,' and 'Tampiqueño.' In 1985, the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station released 'Hidalgo,' a mild, multiple virus resistant strain which is now popular in the U.S.

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Culinary Usage

Relatively unknown in the United States until a couple of decades ago, serranos have gained fame because of their pickling.. Many different brands of serranos en escabeche, or serranos pickled with carrots and onions, have gained favor in the Southwest, where they are consumed as a snack or hors d'ouevre. By far, the most common use of serranos is in fresh salsas. The chiles are picked fresh from the garden or purchased in produce departments, are minced and then combined with a variety of vegetables. The resulting salsas can be used as dips, or as condiments for meats, poultry, seafood, and egg dishes.

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Recipe: Fresh Tomatillo Salsa with Serranos

In Mexico, all sauces are salsas, regardless of whether or not they are cooked. But in the U.S., a salsa usually refers to an uncooked sauce. This is one of the simplest--yet tastiest--uses of serrano chiles. Serve this as a dip for chips or as a marinade and basting sauce for grilled poultry and meat.

  • 1 pound fresh green tomatillos
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped red onions
  • 2 serrano chiles, seeds and stems removed, minced
  • 1 small bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)
  • Sugar to taste (optional)

Husk the tomatillos and wash them thoroughly under very hot water. Cool under running water, and coarsely puree in food processor or blender. Add the onions, serrano chiles, cilantro, and lime juice and pulse until coarsely chopped.

Remove the bowl and add olive oil if you wish to adjust the consistency. Add some sugar if the tomatillos are too sour.

Yield: About 2 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

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