I recently got a comment from someone asking what a ‘Poblano’ pepper was. I realized that living in Los Angeles, I am spoiled by the ready availability of nearly every type of chile pepper, both fresh and dried. One of our first posts discussed the basic varieties of dried chiles, so here I thought I’d just go through some of the most common fresh chiles we use. Fresh (and dried) chiles are all varieties of the genus capsicum and are found throughout the world in endless variety. Ranging in heat from the mild yellow banana pepper all the way to the thermonuclear ghost chile they are an indispensable ingredient in Latin American, Carribbean, Chinese, Indian, Asian, African, Mediterranean and Southwest American cuisines.
Chiles are rated for heat on a scale called the Scoville scale and are measured in Scoville units. Peppers range from 0 Scoville units for bell peppers all the way to 2,000,000 or more for the Ghost Chile, the Trinidad Scorpion, and the Carolina Reaper. We don’t go much above the Habanero here, and sparingly at that. They can vary greatly in heat, even within the same type depending on various factors such as the specific variety, growing conditions, climate, soil, location, and so on. I am sure it won’t be long before we start to see chiles designated by geographic location and individual cultivar, like chocolate or coffee.
Here are the chiles you will find in Hot Eddie’s kitchen. I usually have two or three varieties on hand at any given moment. I always have a bag of serranos in the fridge, and usually a couple of poblanos and New Mexicos too. When choosing fresh chiles Look for smooth, firm skin without blemishes or wrinkles. Store them tightly wrapped in the refrigerator, if you have a vegetable crisper drawer, that is ideal. They’ll keep for a week or so, but it is best to use them as soon as possible after you bring them home. Better yet, grow them in your garden and pick them fresh just before you need them.
I have listed them in ascending heat factor and descending size. I am not sure why this is, but as the chile gets smaller, they tend to be hotter. I have some tiny Chiltepin growing in the garden, not much bigger than a pea and they are small but mighty. I recommend using gloves when working with chiles, the oil can be very persistent and can cause serious discomfort when transferred to sensitive areas of your body. Always wash your hands well after handling chiles. Don’t be afraid of them, just respect them.
Poblano, also mistakenly called Pasilla in many grocery stores is a dark green chile about 5 to 6 inches long. It resembles a green bell pepper but is more tapered, slightly flattened, and pointed at one end. It is one of the mainstays of Mexican cooking and is used to give flavor and a mild heat to Chile Verde. It is also commonly stuffed with cheese, battered and fried to make Chiles Rellenos. Scoville 500-2,000
Anaheim, California, or New Mexico. Longer and lighter green than a poblano, these chiles are also mainstays. They typically are 6 to 8 inches long, slightly flattened and about 1 to 1 ½ inches wide. They can be a bit hotter than the poblano but still fairly mild. When ripe, they turn red and are dried whole or ground into powder. Emilio Ortega brought these chiles from New Mexico to Anaheim in the 1900’s and his name has become synonymous with them. Frequently roasted and peeled, they add zing to salsas, chlile stews and are also stuffed for Chiles Rellenos.They are also referred to Hatch chiles, for the town in New Mexico. New Mexico chiles tend to be hotter than the”California” variety. Scoville 1,000-3,000
Jalepeño. These chiles are ubiquitous in Mexican cooking, and outside of larger latino markets, often the only variety available fresh. They are deep green, 3 to 4 inches long, with a rounded end and thick fleshy walls. They are very versatile and show up in fresh and cooked tomato salsas, stuffed for appetizers at chain restaurants, and pickled with carrots and onions. They are usually hotter than the poblano and Anaheim, but can vary tremendously in heat. Usually used green, when they ripen they turn a beautiful deep red and have a sweeter flavor. A chipotle pepper is nothing more than a smoked and dried red jalepeño. Scoville 1,000-4,000
Serrano. About the same length as a jalepeño but lighter green and thinner with a pointier end. They are also hotter. They are used for the same basic purposes as the jalepeño, and are just as commonly available. Many people, including Hot Eddie prefer them for fresh salsa as they have a more distinctive flavor than the jalapeño. They give the heat to Chile Verde among many other dishes. They are indispensable for Manny’s Salsa, Salsa Verde and Turkey Bean Chile. Scoville 5,000-20,000
Red Fresno. Similar in appearance to a jalapeño, but usually smaller, slightly flattened and tapered at the end. The wall is also thinner and not as fleshy. Generally hotter than a jalapeño, they are always used when red and ripe. I use them for my homemade sriracha sauce, and also for flavor in both fresh and cooked salsas. They have a distinctive sweet and peppery flavor. Not always available, they are more seasonal and a little harder to find. It is worth the quest. Scoville 3,500-10,000
Habanero. Rarely used green, they vary in color from yellow through orange to a deep red. Normally about 1 to 1 ½ inches long, they are some of the hottest fresh chiles, and have a citrusy flavor. Their heat is not immediately apparent when you eat them, but sneaks up for a long-lasting burn. Use them to give another layer of flavor to salsas and chile stews. Careful, use them with caution. Scoville 100,000-350,000
Thai chiles. These are also commonly available in Asian and Indian markets. They are small, about ¼ inch in diameter and 1 to 2 inches long. Used green or red, they are very hot. They are also available dried. Not frequently found in Mexican recipes, nevertheless, they started to show up at some local Latino markets, so I include them. Scoville 50,000-100,000
So there you go. Now when you find yourself in front of a selection of fresh chiles in your local market, you will know what they are called, and what to do with them. As always feel free to post questions, and I’ll be happy to do my best to answer them. Happy cooking.