Spotlight: Pasilla de Oaxaca Chiles
Tucked away in the mountains of northeastern Oaxaca, you’ll find one of the rarest heirloom chile peppers in the world. The Pasilla de Oaxaca chile is a deliciously smoky and sweet dried pepper, with notes of fruit and a friendly amount of heat.
What Are Pasilla de Oaxaca Chiles?
Pasilla de Oaxaca chiles are a cultivar of Capsicum annuum, and closely related to commonly known chiles like Poblanos, Chilacas, and Jalapeños. Like most Mexican chiles, Pasilla de Oaxaca chiles go by different names when they are fresh versus when they are dried. When fresh, they are known as Mixe (pronounced mee-hay) chiles—named after the mountainous region of Oaxaca they’re grown in and the indigenous people that live there. The Sierra Mixe region of Oaxaca is the only place in the world where these peppers are cultivated.
The cool, humid air makes sun-drying the fresh Mixe chiles nearly impossible. Pasilla de Oaxaca chiles must be dried over smoldering wood coals for several days. This results in a smoky flavor that's twice as complex as a Chipotle. When you open a bag of these peppers and take in their aroma, you can picture yourself on the edge of a sloping chile field, tending to the fire, and turning over the ripe, red chiles by hand.
Unlike their mild relative Pasilla Negro chiles, Pasilla de Oaxaca chiles have a noticeable heat level to them. They clock in at around 15,000 Scoville heat units, making them just milder than a Chipotle pepper. Pasilla de Oaxaca’s fruity, smoky flavor makes them an exceptional element in any salsa, stew, or marinade recipe. This flavor profile also makes it the perfect fill-in-the-gap flavor for many vegan and vegetarian recipes in need of a savory boost. These chiles are particularly delicious when incorporated into recipes for mole negro, one of Oaxaca’s most famous dishes.
How to Cook With Pasilla de Oaxaca Chiles
Like most dried Mexican chiles, Pasilla de Oaxaca is often paired with other dried chiles to balance and harmonize the flavors in a recipe. Popular chiles to pair with them are Guajillo chiles, Ancho chiles, and Chiles de Arbol. These chiles also pair well with spices and herbs like allspice berries, cloves, cocoa powder, vanilla, Ceylon cinnamon, Mexican oregano, cilantro, coriander seed, garlic, onion, and sesame seeds.
Pasilla de Oaxaca chiles need to be rehydrated with hot water. Begin by removing the woody stem, inner seeds, and seed veins. Lightly toast the chiles in a dry pan to draw out the aromatic oils and soften the pepper. Steep chiles in a covered bowl of hot water for 15-20 minutes. Puree in a food processor, blender, or with a mortar and pestle. For more detailed information on this cooking technique, check our blog on how to use dried chiles.
We’ve been using a lot of these peppers in the test kitchen lately. Below you will find just a few of our favorite recipes that call for this rare and exceptional pepper.
Smoky & Spicy Chile Seasoning Paste
This seasoning paste is an easy flavor booster for marinades, spreads, soups, beans—the possibilities are endless.
Oaxacan–Style Mole Sauce
This recipe might seem intimidating, but it is more time consuming than it is difficult. Try this sauce for making the classic dish, pollo in mole. You can also use this to make outstanding enchiladas, drizzle this over braised pork, or serve this over a plate of rice and beans.
Smoky Pinto Beans
This recipe is surprisingly simple to make, even if you have never cooked with dried chiles or beans before. The beans will need to soak and cook for 2-3 hours, but the active cooking time for this recipe is less than 30 minutes. Perfect for a leisurely Sunday, and there will be leftovers you can freeze for later.
Roasted Red Salsa Oaxaquena
This smoky tomato salsa has a medium heat, roasted sweetness, garlicky bite and bright lime flavors on the finish. Try it as a sauce for your favorite tacos, or as a simple snack with plenty of tortilla chips.