Chipotle chile peppers have crinkled brown skin and a complex smoky, nutty flavor with hints of sweetened chocolate. They fall mid-range on the chile pepper heat index and are produced by drying and smoking jalapeño peppers. Chipotle seasoning, or powder, results from further drying the peppers and then grinding them into a fine powder, called chipotle seasoning or powder. Chipotle can season many different stews, sauces and Tex-Mex-inspired dishes.
Chipotle seasoning is pure ground chipotle chile powder. You can make your own by purchasing a bag of chipotle peppers and further drying them in an oven set at the lowest possible temperature until they snap in two. Don a mask, such as those used by painters or surgeons, to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the pepper vapors, and grind them in a food processor or coffee grinder. You can also find packaged chipotle seasoning in the herbs and spices section of large supermarkets.
The word "chipotle" combines two words from the Aztec's ancient language, Nahuatl. They called any hot pepper "chil" and used the term "potle" for smoked. In Mexico, "chipotle" almost always refers to smoked jalapeños. Because large, fleshy jalapeños did not dry well in the sun, the Aztecs turned to smoking them for preservation. With the delightful flavor produced by the smoking process, smoked jalapeños became popular in the marketplaces of Tenochtitlán, the ancient Aztec capital now known as Mexico City.
Cooking With Chipotle
Every chile contains some capsaicin, a compound that accounts for the "heat" of the chile. Smoking does not reduce the heat level. Be careful about adding too much chipotle seasoning to any dish. Adding and tasting in stages is recommended. Although jalapeños are not the hottest of the chile peppers, the smoking process does add a pungency that can easily overwhelm a dish. Also keep in mind that a person's tolerance for capsaicin depends on exposure to it. People who have eaten chiles for years can tolerate much more heat than people who have only sampled them intermittently.
In Mexico, chipotle is most often used to season sauces, which can be served as a condiment or added to a wide variety of dishes. But it can also be added to stews and soups, such as black bean chili, tortilla soup and corn chowder. Entrees seasoned with chipotle include meat dishes, casseroles, or bean and rice dishes.
- The New Food Lover's Companion; Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
- Chipotle; Dave DeWitt and Chuck Evans
- The Oxford Companion to Food; Alan Davidson
Laura McGowan has written and edited for universities and educational publishers for more than 13 years. She has also covered gardening and wild plant and animal life of Illinois and brings expertise in vegan and vegetarian cooking, Apple computers and Labrador Retrievers. McGowan holds a Master of Arts in English literature.