Spices 101: What is chipotle?
Chipotle peppers have really taken off in the past decade. I never really saw them in many dishes outside of Mexican cuisine when I was younger, but holy crap are they popular now. I’m not sure who was responsible for it but boy are they happy. Perhaps part of it is tributed to the rise of the burrito franchise Chipotle’s, but I dunno… no offense to them, but they kinda suck. Or rather the food is good there, but the prices are unnecessarily high. But forget them, we’re here to talk about real-ass chipotle peppers and what to do with them.
Appearance: Dark-red flakes / wrinkly, dark-red peppers
Taste: Smokey, Spicy
Foods: Mexican and many other Latino cuisines
So really, let’s get back to the question at hand, what are chipotle peppers? Contrary to what you might think, they’re not a specific type of exotic pepper that’s grown, but rather they’re usually just plain old generic jalapeno peppers. The difference though, is they’re jalapeno peppers that have ripened for an absurdly long time (to the point of drying out and wilting on the plant) and then smoked after they’re picked. If you look at a chipotle pepper, it’s actually pretty gross since it kinda looks like a pepper that went bad. Despite that, they’re totally delicious and fine to eat. As far as culinary use, the two most common ways you’ll see them are either packaged whole in sauce, or as crushed flakes.
The cool part about chipotles is that the smoking process really does add a good smokey flavor to them. Get a good whiff of them and it almost has a barbecue-like aroma to them. It’s almost enough to substitute for liquid smoke if you’re grilling meats and need that nice dark taste. Use the two together, and, oh baby…
One bit of advice about chipotle peppers, however, is that they are fairly spicy. Jalapenos on their own really aren’t anything impressive on the Scoville scale, however the drying and smoking process really concentrates the capsaicin to the point that they’re usually a bit spicier than a fresh jalapeno pepper. If you like spicy food that’s great news! If you don’t like spicy food, ehhhh, it’s not the worst thing ever. Truth be told they’re still fairly mild all things considered, it’s just something to keep in mind since spiciness aside the flavor is so good.
You can use chipotle flakes in spice rubs or as a seasoning for roast meats/veggies. As mentioned, they offer a really nice, smokey flavor. This comes out really strongly when roasting foods like a whole chicken with chipotle in the seasoning mix. The taste tends to get a little bit lost when it’s grilled with other spices, but it’s still good. Even if you don’t care about the flavor, they’re just a good way to spice up a dish you think needs more heat.
The canned chipotles in sauce meanwhile are a bit less versatile. The sauce itself has a very strong flavor from the peppers and is pretty spicy itself. It tastes great when used as a base for curry dishes and other sauce based meals. The peppers themselves can be chopped up like any other vegetable, though they will be kinda mushy. If you don’t want to use the sauce, just fish the chipotle peppers out and use just those. Hell, if you’re feeling adventurous you can even put the whole peppers in your burritos for a nice kick, or use them in pasta dishes for an extra zing.
Chipotles got popular for a reason. They’re delicious and work well in a lot of different foods. The flakes can easily be found in the spice section, and the canned peppers in your ethnic food section, of the local grocer. If you have any bodegas/Latino markets around you, even better.