To many cooks, fresh chiles are something of a mystery. You know they’re spicy…or maybe very spicy…or even incendiary. But telling one from another—let alone how to use them—is another story. Learning how to coax that uniquely satisfying combination of heat and flavor out of fresh chiles will bring a bold new bravado to your cooking style, and it’s well worth it.
Fresh chiles are usually harvested in the green stage. Fully ripened red ones are most often used for drying, but they also turn up fresh in the market for a brief period in the fall. Before shopping, it’s always a good idea to look at a photo of the chile your recipe calls for—just in case your grocer calls it by another name.
You can certainly use fresh chiles raw by including sliced or minced serrano or jalapeño in your guacamole or Chinese stir-fry. Raw chiles are a must in Thai green curry, and jalapeño slices are always found on the garnish plates at Vietnamese restaurants.
Handling: It’s wise to wear rubber gloves when handling hot chiles so you don’t get any juice on your face or in your eyes.
But in my experience, the best way to get great flavor out of green chiles is to roast them, either in a dry skillet, on the grill, under a broiler, or over a gas flame. Think about the difference in flavor between fresh red peppers and roasted red peppers and you quickly appreciate what happens to a fresh green chile when you roast it. First of all, the chile becomes sweeter-tasting and the flesh becomes meatier. But equally important, cooking rounds out the heat, making it mellower and dispersing it more evenly. And there’s an added benefit—the cellophane-like skin on the outside of the chile slips off easily after the chile has been roasted and cooled. These recipes—easy quesadillas, a versatile green chile sauce, stacked enchiladas, a classic salsa, and sirloin tacos—each use a different green chile to its best advantage.