Note: the following is adapted from an excerpt of the book, Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes, by this columnist co-authored with Adriana Almazan Lahl.
Guide to Mexican chiles
TOSTAR OR ASAR (TO DRY-ROAST)
Frequently this is the very first step in preparing a Mexican dish, utilizing the comal, over high heat. Oils were not introduced to Mexico until the arrival of the Europeans, so the Aztecs used this dry method of sealing flavor into, or getting the most flavor out of, chiles or tomatoes (red or green), primarily for salsas. Wash and dry chiles before roasting them on a very hot comal, and remove from heat quickly, before they begin to change color (unless recipes specifies otherwise), at which point the flavor can become bitter.
Guide to Mexican chiles, Part II
CHILES, WORKING WITH AND PREPARING
To Remove Skin: Some recipes require the skin to be removed. This technique is most commonly used for poblano chiles, especially when preparing them to make chiles rellenos (stuffed chiles) or rajas (strips of chile). Prepare the peppers by heating on the comal until the skin is blackened and blistered on all sides, turning frequently with tongs. Remove chiles from the heat and immediately place them in a plastic bag and tie it closed, allowing the peppers to sweat for 5–10 minutes. This cooking technique is known in Mexico as sudar. Remove the peppers from the bag and, using your fingers (wearing gloves), peel the blackened skin. Cut a small (2- to 3-inch) slit lengthwise, trying not to break the pepper and keeping the stem intact, then proceed to carefully take the seeds out without breaking the flesh. Place peppers in the fridge to cool down until ready to serve
World’s hottest chiles
Use very little, maybe a 1/3 of a chile at first as these little guys earn a rating of 100,000-350,000 on the Scoville scale. Be sure to wear gloves when handing and mince very, very fine for even distribution if you are making guacamole, or add just a tiny morsel to your blender if you are making salsa, taste and add more if its needed.
Commonly used in many salsa recipes, somewhat hotter than Jalapeños, when they are smoked they become Chiptole chiles, which are commonly sold in cans.
Chiles for mole
As sold in the market in Mexico City. Did you know that there are as many as 300 mole recipes found among the Mexican cooks in Puebla, alone?
Moles in the Market in Mexico
Chiles are one of the principal ingredients in Mexico’s famous moles, there are over 300 mole recipes from Puebla, alone! Mexico’s Mole Poblano is probably the best known here in the US (its the chocolately brown mole).
Pickled onions and habanero chiles
A traditional accompaniment to anything “pibil”, so cochinita or pescado, among other dishes, this is easy to make at home. Recipes in Celebraciones Mexicanas: History, Traditions and Recipes.