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Cooking with Fresh Green Chiles

Learn to coax the best out of four common fresh chiles, and make some great Tex-Mex favorites

by Robb Walsh

fromFine Cooking
Issue 73

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.

Poblano

Fat, wide, and dark green, the poblano is rich in flavor. Poblanos are one of the most commonly used chiles in Central Mexican cooking, both fresh and dried. Named after the Mexican city of Puebla, where they probably originated, poblanos are generally roasted and peeled before use, though they can also be sautéed.

Heat: Medium

Good in: Chile relleno dishes, quesadillas, any melted cheese dish. Like Anaheims, poblanos are good roasted, cut into strips, and used as a flavoring for tacos, fajitas, or quesadillas.

Also called: Ancho or pasilla

In dried form: Called an ancho

Anaheim

These are one of the only chiles most New Mexicans and West Texans use, so they just call it a “green chile” (until it ripens and becomes a “red chile”). In the rest of the country, most of us call it an Anaheim. This light green chile has a pleasant vegetal flavor and ranges from slightly warm to medium hot. Anaheims are usually roasted and peeled before they’re used.

Heat: Mild to medium

Good in: Roasted and cut into strips called rajas, Anahiems can be used as a condiment on tacos and fajitas, and they make a great garnish. Use them diced or puréed for green chile sauce.

Also called: long green, Hatch, New Mexico, Chimayo

In dried form: called a red chile or chile Colorado

Jalapeño

The classic Tex-Mex hot chile and one of the world’s best-known. Originally grown in Mexico, it’s named for Jalapa, a town in the state of Veracruz. The fresh jalapeño has a strong, vegetal flavor to go with the heat. Although many Americans prefer to cook with fresh jalapeños, the jalapeño is most widely consumed in the United States in its pickled form. Red jalapeños are common in the fall.

Heat: Hot

Good in: Salsas, stir-fries, soups, vegetable stews; Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Indo-Pakistani cuisine as well as Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking.

In smoke-dried form: Called a chipotle

Serrano

Similar to the jalapeño, the serrano is hotter and usually smaller. Often serranos have a fuller, more herbaceous flavor than jalapeños.

Heat: Hot

Good in: Salsas, and any place you’d use a jalapeño.

In dried form: Called a chile seco

Photos: Scott Phillips

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