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How to Toast Dry Chiles and Spices

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The tamale recipe featured in Fine Cooking #102 calls for toasting dry spices and chiles. Here’s the method recommended by contributor Daniel Hoyer:

Be prepared to work quickly and ventilate well, as chile smoke is irritating and may cause you to cough and sneeze. Heat a heavy-duty skillet (such as cast iron) over medium-high heat until you can feel the heat radiate from the surface. Working with one type of spice or chile at a time, add it to the skillet. Flip or stir frequently for even toasting, until browned for spices or lightly charred—not scorched—for chiles. Immediately transfer to a cool container.

Wipe out the skillet before adding the next ingredient, or any particles remaining may burn and taint the flavor of the new ingredient being toasted. It helps to toast coarser items like whole chiles and seeds first, followed by herbs and leaves, then ground spices, and lastly ground chiles. The finer ingredients are done last because they’re the most difficult to completely wipe from the skillet, and they’re more likely to burn because they have more surface area exposed to heat.

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