Cooking with Fresh Chile Peppers

Jackson Ortega-Scheiner Cooking with Chiles Leave a Comment

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Email this to someone

Fresh Red Chile

Most chile lovers are familiar with New Mexican green chiles, which are the large (5″ to 10″), fleshy, mild chiles that are also called Anaheim chiles. (Anaheim is actually a variety of New Mexico chile, as are Sandia, Big Jim, etc.) These same green chiles are the immature stage of the New Mexico red chiles, which are used to make chile ristras, and when dried, are ground into red chile powder. There is a stage between fresh green and dried red that is known as fresh red and many people swear that this is the most delicious stage. It has a fresh taste like fresh green, but also includes the rich flavor of dried red pods. For those who have never tried it, it is a deliciously new chile flavor sensation.

Red and green New Mexican chiles



Red and green New Mexican chiles


Green chile, like many other chiles, undergoes a substantial chemical transformation as it turns red and matures, as the sugars and vitamin A increase. As soon as the pods turn red, they start to dry out. Fresh red is the stage where the pods have just turned red, and are as fat and sassy as fresh green. In fact, fresh red is handled just like fresh green–that is, roasted and peeled. Many people use fresh red just like fresh green, for chiles rellenos, red chile stew, and chop it to eat on sandwiches, steaks, hamburgers, and eggs, just to name a few. Personally, we prefer to use fresh green for most of those foods; we use fresh red to prepare a base for some wonderfully tasty red chile sauces.

Top of Page

Freezing Chiles

Freezing chiles is an excellent way of preserving them. Chiles that have been frozen retain all the characteristics of fresh chiles except for their texture. Since the individual cell walls have been ruptured by the freezing of the water within each cell, the chiles will lose their crisp texture.

Another result of the freezing process, according to one source, is to spread the capsaicin throughout the chile. This occurs with the rupturing of the cell walls and can actually make some chiles seem hotter after freezing than they were beforehand. Research to date indicates that freezing chiles does not make them hotter. There is simply nothing that the freezing process alone can do, either physically or chemically, to increase the heat of a chile.

There are different requirements for freezing chiles, depending on the size of the chile. Large chiles may be frozen at any stage once they have been roasted. That is, they may be frozen before peeling (freezing actually makes them easier to peel), or after peeling and de-seeding. They may be frozen whole or chopped.

The easiest way to freeze large chiles is to put them into freezer bags, double-bag them and place in the freezer. You can also wrap them in heavy foil or freezer wrap, or you can pack them in rigid plastic containers. A handy way to freeze chopped New Mexico green chile is in plastic ice cube trays. After the trays are frozen, the chile cubes can be popped out and stored double zip bags. The cubes can then be used when making soups or stews, or in other recipes, without having to pry apart blocks of frozen chiles.

Freezing chiles



Larger chiles can be frozen chopped or as strips


Smaller varieties, including habaneros, serranos, jalapeños, and Thai chiles can be frozen without processing. Just wash off the chiles and allow them to dry before freezing. Then place them on a cookie sheet or other flat surface, one layer deep, and put them in the freezer until frozen solid. They can then be stored in double freezer bags and will keep for 9 to 12 months at zero degrees F. Sometimes they dry out a bit and need to be soaked in water during defrosting to rehydrate them.

Fresh red chile paste (see below) can be stored in plastic containers or zip bags and frozen to use all year long. The paste holds up well in the freezer and really helps to cut meal preparation time.

Top of Page

Cautionary Notes

Capsaicin, the alkaloid responsible for the heat in chiles, is a joy in food–it hurts so good! It is far less welcome in large doses on the skin, or in any amount in an eye. We urge everyone who works with or processes chile in any quantity to wear gloves while handling the chile. This is especially important when handling the hottest varieties because chile burns can be extremely painful, which we can testify to from personal experience. They are also nearly impossible to cure; about the only thing to do is to wait them out because they will eventually wear off.

Protective gloves



Gloves protect the skin when working with hot chiles


If you do get burned, remember that capsaicin is oil soluble, meaning that water will have no effect on it. So if you come down with Hunan hand, which is the official name for capsaicin- burned hands, the best remedy is to coat your hands in vegetable oil, rather than soap and water. Even this will not completely eliminate the heat, but it will reduce it. (The same advice applies to flaming taste buds; rather than water, consume a dairy product such as sour cream, yogurt, or ice cream.)

In addition, be careful where you put your nose while processing and cooking chile. It’s not wise to stick your nose right over the top of the blender as you remove the lid after grinding up a batch of chiles, likewise with a covered pot of chiles that is being cooked on the stove. Whenever you’re working with or cooking chiles, it’s a good idea to keep your face away from any concentrated chile combinations.

Top of Page


Frozen Chile Mash

Here is one of the best methods for processing and preserving large quantities of small chile pods quickly. The way is so basic that it is sometimes overlooked among preservation methods. You should have a powerful blender or food processor for this. To use, defrost the cubes and estimate 2 to 3 pods per cube. Use in recipes calling for minced or chopped small chiles.

  • Fresh small chile pods, such as jalapeño, habanero, or rocoto, seeds and stems removed

  • Water as needed

Place the chile pods in a food processor or blender with a little water and process to a medium-thin puree. Take care not to breathe the fumes from the pureeing. Pour the puree into plastic ice cube trays and freeze solid. Pop the cubes out and double bag them in zip bags. Label and place back in the freezer.

Yield: Varies

Heat Scale: Hot to Extremely Hot

Top of Page

Salsa Fresca

Fresh salsas are a must during the summer are a great way to use the earliest pods such as jalapeños and serranos. Vary the flavor of the salsa by using different chiles as they become available. Keep a supply on hand to serve with chips as a dip, as an accompaniment to grilled poultry or fish, or with burritos, fajitas, or even hamburgers. This salsa will keep for 2 days in the refrigerator. It does not keep its texture when frozen.

  • 3 serrano or jalapeño chiles, stems and seeds removed, minced

  • 2 yellow wax chiles, stems and seeds removed, minced

  • 2 large tomatoes, finely diced

  • 1 medium purple onion, finely diced

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice or cider vinegar

  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

  • 1 large avocado, diced

Combine all the ingredients except the cilantro and avocado and let the salsa sit for at least an hour to blend the flavors.

Mix in the cilantro and avocado before serving.

Yield: 2 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Top of Page

Caribbean Salsa

The combination of fresh fruit and chile produces a salsa that goes well with lighter fare such as grilled chicken or fish. This will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.

  • 1 cup diced fresh mango

  • 1 cup diced fresh papaya

  • 6 serrano chiles, stems removed, minced or substitute 2 habaneros

  • 1/2 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, minced

  • 3 green onions, sliced, including some of the green

  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • Chopped fresh cilantro

Combine all the ingredients and allow to sit for an hour to blend the flavors.

Yield: 2 cups

Heat Scale: Hot

Top of Page

Louisiana-Style Hot Sauce

This very easy to prepare sauce only gets better as it ages. Allow it to sit for at least a week before using, if possible. For a green version of this sauce, use serrano, jalapeño, or Thai chiles in their green stage, instead of the red varieties called for below. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

  • 1/2 cup fresh tabasco chiles, stems removed, or substitute cayenne, piquin, or japones chiles

  • 2/3 cup white vinegar

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt

Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

Pour into a clean, sterilized bottle and let steep in the refrigerator for a few weeks before using.

Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup

Heat Scale: Hot

Top of Page

New Mexican Green Chile Sauce

This versatile sauce is basic to New Mexican cuisine. It is best with freshly roasted and peeled chile but can be made with canned, frozen or even dried green chile. Finely diced pork can be added but cook the sauce for an additional half hour. Use this sauce over enchiladas, burritos, or tacos. It will keep for about 5 days in the refrigerator and freezes well.

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

  • 2 to 3 cups homemade chicken stock

  • 1 cup chopped green New Mexico chile, roasted, peeled, stems removed

  • 1 small tomato, peeled and chopped

Saute the onion and garlic in the oil until soft. Stir in the flour and blend well. Simmer for a couple of minutes to “cook” the flour. Slowly add the broth and stir until smooth.

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce has thickened, about 15 minutes.

Yield: 2 to 3 cups

Heat Scale: Medium

Top of Page

Fresh Red Chile Sauce

This method of making chile sauce differs from others using fresh New Mexican chiles because these chiles aren’t roasted and peeled first. Because of the high sugar content of fresh red chiles, this sauce is sweeter than most. We harvested some chiles from his garden one late summer day, made a batch of this sauce, and ate every drop as a soup! It makes a tasty enchilada sauce, too. It will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

  • 8 fresh red New Mexican chiles (or more to taste), seeds and stems removed, chopped

  • 1 large onion, chopped

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 4 cups water

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro

  • 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano leaves

  • Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the chiles, onion, and garlic until the onion is soft, about 7 minutes.

Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour, uncovered.

In a blender, puree the sauce in batches and return it to the saucepan. Cook until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency. Add salt to taste.

Yield: About 3 cups

Heat Scale: Mild to Medium

Top of Page

Asian Chile Paste

Popular throughout Southeast Asia, this garlic and chile based paste is used as a condiment that adds fire without greatly altering the taste of the dish. It is especially good in stir-frys. To use up a lot of chiles, triple the recipe. It will keep for up to 3 months in the refrigerator. It can also be frozen.

  • 1 cup small fresh red chiles, stems removed, such as Thai, serrano, piquin, or japones

  • 1/3 cup white vinegar

  • 8 cloves garlic, chopped

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • Water as needed

Combine all the ingredients in a blender or processor and puree, adding enough water to form a thick paste.

Yield: 1 cup

Heat Scale: Hot

Top of Page

Fresh Red Chile Paste

This easy to prepare, tasty paste provides a fresh flavor to any dish you make. You can also cook this up in large batches and freeze it for use all year long. The paste is very versatile and can be used as a base for enchilada sauces or chili con carne, or as an ingredient in marinades or pasta sauces. It will keep for a week in the refrigerator, or you can freeze it in plastic ice cube trays.

  • 12 fresh red New Mexican chiles, roasted, peeled, stems and seeds removed

  • 2 cloves garlic

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Place all the ingredients in a blender or processor with just enough water to blend. Puree until smooth, adding water if necessary; the paste should be thick.

Strain to remove any fibers from the paste.

Variation: Add more liquid and make a sauce.

Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup

Heat Scale: Medium

Top of Page

Chiles Rellenos

All fresh green New Mexican chiles are great for stuffing, but we prefer Big Jims because they are so large. Fresh poblano chiles (a Mexican favorite) and even large jalapeños can also be used. Top the rellenos with either a red or green chile sauce before serving.

  • 6 green New Mexican chiles, roasted and peeled, stems left on

  • Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, cut in sticks

  • All-purpose flour for dredging

  • 3 eggs, separated

  • 1 tablespoon water

  • 3 tablespoons flour

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • Vegetable oil for frying

Make a slit in the side of each chile and stuff them with the cheese. Dredge the chiles in the flour and set aside.

In a bowl, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. In another bowl, beat the yolks with the water, flour, and salt until thick and creamy. Fold the yolks into the whites to make the batter.

Pour the oil into a frying pan to a depth of an inch and a half and heat to 375 °. Dip the chiles into the batter and fry, turning once, until a golden brown.

Yield: 3 servings

Heat Scale: Medium

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Email this to someone