How-To: Working With Dried Chiles

My grandmother used to live in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was and is not uncommon to see chiles hanging out to dry in the sun as you drive down the road. That is my first memory of dried chiles. However, it took me years and years to rediscover them.

For our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, my husband bought me a wonderful cookbook written by the fabulous Rick Bayless. I adore Mexican food and would eat it all day long every day if I had the time to do so. All of his books are full of great instructions and background on ingredients. Some of our favorite recipes have come from his book.

From Rick Bayless, I have learned all about dried chiles and how to use them.

I buy my dried chiles from my local Latin American market. The ones I like the best for “everyday” use are Guajillo chiles. They aren’t too hot, but have a great flavor. (For a great reference on varieties of dried chiles, along with pictures, click here.)

Note: You may want to use gloves when preparing dried chiles, especially if you have particularly sensitive skin or are a contact wearer. I don’t always remember (like you will see in the pictures below), but I always wish I had after my eyes and fingertips start to burn.

Let’s get started….

Whole dried chiles need some TLC before you can use them. The chiles pictured below are mainly Guajillos with a few New Mexican chiles thrown in–for a little extra heat.

I usually cut off the stem end first–

The seeds inside need to be removed.

Shaking them out sometimes works for smaller chiles.

For the big ones, like Guajillos, you need to make a slit down the side with a sharp knife. You can see how many seeds are still inside–along with the ribs. (That’s where the heat is.)

After the seed have been removed, it’s time to toast the chiles to bring out the flavor. I prefer to use my cast iron skillet for this. Whatever pan you use, don’t oil it first. You want to have a dry heat.

Place the chiles on the hot pan and press down on them with a metal spatula. They will start to smoke a bit and become fragrant. Be careful not to let them burn or your sauce/paste will be bitter.

They will lighten in color as they toast and some will even puff up a bit. Only toast each side for a few seconds–maybe 15 to 20. Again, you don’t want them to burn. It’s a quick toast.

After all the chiles have been toasted, the next step is soaking.

Place the chiles in plenty of hot water.

Weight them down with a plate or bowl to keep them submerged.

Guajillo chiles need to soak a little longer than other kinds of chiles because they have a thicker skin. I usually let them soak between 30 minutes and one hour.

The chiles below have been drained. Discard the soaking water.

The next step is to puree the soaked chiles. For obvious reasons, a food processor is my first choice. A blender will also do nicely. Add a little fresh water–just enough for the chiles to form a paste.

Technically you don’t have to strain the puree, but I like to. It makes for a smoother sauce–especially if I’m using it to make enchilada sauce.

In the picture below, I used the puree to make a delicious Black Bean-Chorizo Chili. (The recipe will be posted tomorrow!)

You can see how smooth the puree is. And it’s so full of flavor!

Now, what do I use dried chiles for?

Mostly I use dried chiles for enchilada sauce. There is no comparison. (Don’t even think about buying that canned stuff.)

I also use dried chiles to make awesome chili, like I said.

Quite often, I will soak my own Chipotle peppers (smoked and dried jalape├▒os) to use in various recipes for sauces and salsas. Because the chipotles are so darn hot and spicy, a little goes a long way. I freeze the remaining puree to use as I need it.

My favorite recipe using chipotle peppers is for Honey-Chiptole Barbeque Sandwiches. I make this recipe at least 4 or 5 times through out the summer. I substitute my own soaked chipotles for the canned ones called for in the recipe.



Can you offer any other tips or advice that you have used?

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  1. This was a great how-to. My dried chile prep is going to be so much better from now on. And I’m with Julia. We want your enchilada sauce recipe. :)

  2. This may sound a bit strange….but I think a tiny tiny bit of dried chili sauce in chocolate cake batter…may make a delicious mayan chocolate cake…..

    You’ve inspired me to make enchilada sauce from scratch. What’s the recipe???

  3. Alright, alright. I’ll post the sauce recipe. :)

    I’ve been meaning to do a step-by-step for the enchilada sauce. anyway.

    I love the truffle and cake suggestion. I’m even thinking ice cream…because I’m always thinking about ice cream.

  4. Thanks for the great tutorial on using dried chiles Lindsey! This is very helpful. I have little to no experience with these, but have had a bag of them a friend brought me back from the US sitting in my cupboard. Now I know how to use them!

    PS- I vote for the truffles and ice cream!

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