Cooking with dried chiles is like unlocking a new taste bud. Stirring peppers from their dried slumber awakens uniquely savory, sweet, spicy, and fruity flavors that aren’t found in their fresh forms. Rehydrating whole dried chiles is an essential part of authentic Mexican and southwestern cuisine that dramatically enhances your favorite recipes for salsa, chili con carne, beans, and stews.
For this demonstration, we’re working with guajillo chile peppers. Guajillos have a bright, fruity flavor that is reminiscent of cranberry and tomato. We chose this pepper because it comes up frequently in recipes calling for dried chiles. To discover more dried peppers, browse our entire collection of gourmet chiles.
Step One: Cleaning the Chiles
Chile peppers are often dried in the fields they’re grown in. So it is normal for them to arrive with some dust or dirt on them, just like produce from the grocery store. Simply wipe them clean with a warm, damp towel.
Step Two: Remove Seeds, Stem, & Seed Veins
This step is easiest to do by hand. We recommend wearing gloves to protect your skin from stains and any spicy heat from inside the chile. Tear off the top and stem, before tearing along the sides to open the pepper and reveal the inside. Some cooks consider removing the seeds as optional, but chile seeds tend to be bitter in flavor, so we like to remove them.
Step Three: Toasting Chiles
Chiles develop even richer flavors when they are lightly toasted. (Just like toasting whole spices before grinding them, like cumin seed or coriander seed.) Toast your dried chiles in a dry pan or skillet on medium heat to draw out flavor from the essential oils.
Step Four: Rehydrating Dried Chiles
Chiles need to be reawakened with boiling water. Make sure the peppers are fully submerged under water, and the bowl is covered with plastic wrap or a tight-fitting lid. Let the chiles steep in hot water for 15-20 minutes.
Step Five: Pureeing Chile Peppers
Add rehydrated chiles to a blender or food processor. Save some of the soaking water from the previous step and add that as well. Extra water helps the peppers puree. Plus, there’s lots of flavor in that chile pepper broth. Pulse and blend on high until reaching a smooth texture.
Step 5. Strain the Puree
This step is optional, but necessary if you want a sauce with a silky smooth texture. Once you’ve pureed the peppers, you can run them through a wire sieve to filter out any large pieces of skin or stray seeds that didn't get removed. Use a rubber spatula to push the puree through the sieve.
6. Start Cooking!
Next time a recipe calls for a few tablespoons of ground chiles, you can enhance the flavor by replacing it with a quick puree. It doesn’t take much to turn simple pureed chiles into a tasty sauce or condiment either. (You also don’t have to follow a recipe.) Adding a little salt, lime juice, and freshly minced garlic to a cup of guajillo chile pepper puree makes a simple, but tasty sauce for tacos. Lime zest and a couple pureed chipotle chiles mixed into mayonnaise makes an incredible spread for sandwiches and hamburgers. Another fun and easy way to experiment with dried chiles is by making salsas in a blender, like in the recipe below.
Roasted Tomato Salsa Recipe
This salsa comes together in less than 25 minutes and the bulk of the prep work is done by the blender. Toasting the dried chiles and roasting the fresh vegetables gives this salsa a special depth of flavor. This salsa truly completes any steak taco, but will disappear just as fast next to a bowl of tortilla chips.
Article by Geoff Marshall, Staff Writer