~ How to: Reconstitute Large, Dried Chile Peppers ~
At any given moment in Melanie's Kitchen, I have a few to several jars of randomly purchased chile powders or chile blends on my spice rack. They are all quite good, are marketed by reputable manufacturers and I am thankful for them. That being said, they do limit me to using whatever each manufacturer has produced or included in their product, as well as what is available to be at my local markets. I want to point out that using dried powder in the home kitchen is very convenient, and, if used correctly, compromises much less than the "fresh chile pepper purists" want you to believe. That being said, it helps to know what you're buying. It's all a matter of knowing the correct spelling and after that, it's all found on the label:
Is it spelled chile or chili? It is NOT a regional thing!
CHILI: Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (like the famous chili con carne).
CHILE POWDER: When spelled with and "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from dried chiles exclusively. This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES.
CHILI POWDER: When spelled with an "i" at the end, means it is a mixture of ground, dried spices (for example: cumin, garlic, onion) and chile powder.
Many recipes call for using dried chile peppers that have been reconstituted. There are many types of dried chile peppers available today (not too many to choose from, but too many to mention individually), and, I am not going to delve into specific kinds today. What I am going to do is show you the proper way to reconstitute the large-sized ones, and, I just happen to have dried guahilla (wah-hee-oh) chiles on-hand, so that is what I am using. These mildly hot, dark red chiles have a leathery skin, which requires a bit longer soaking time than other chiles, making them the perfect guage for this demonstration!
When choosing dried chile peppers, whenever possible, pick up the individual peppers, or, give the bag they are packaged in a little squeeze. Dried chile peppers should be soft and bendable, not hard and brittle. If they are hard and brittle, they've been sitting around too long and will not reconstitute well.
If the peppers you are using are hot, you might want to wear a pair of latex gloves for this part. Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut the tops off of desired number of peppers. Using the shears, slice lengthwise down the side of each one, and remove each and every seed and any visible rib sections or veins.
Sometimes called "toasting" instead of dry-raosting, this step can be and is often omitted, but it goes a long way to enhance/intensify the flavor of the reconstituted chile peppers. You will need a dry (no oil added) nonstick skillet or griddle, placed over medium heat.
Place the peppers, opened up like a book, fleshy side down in the hot skillet. Using the tongs, press down on them in random spots, until they take on an orangey color and have dark spots on them, about 45 seconds. Flip the peppers over and repeat the process on the skin side.
Note: Error on the side of under-roasting the peppers as charred or burnt peppers will taste bitter.
Fill a small 1-2 quart saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Use a larger saucepan if you are reconstituting more than 6-8 peppers. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the peppers to the hot water and allow them to soften/reconstitute for about 20-30 minutes. Drain and use as directed.
Note: Always discard the bitter soaking water.
Special Equipment List: kitchen shears; nonstick skillet or griddle; tongs; 1-2-quart saucepan
Cook's Note: When using reconstituted chile peppers to make sauce, it is customary to puree them with items like grilled onions, roasted garlic, herbs, spices, salt, sometimes sugar and a specified liquid. In some instances, the sauce then gets strained to remove bits of skin. Finally, the sauce is placed in a hot skillet with a bit of oil, briefly fried, then gently simmered for 15-30 minutes to bring out its complex flavors.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2012)