20. Smoking chiles
[How do you smoke chiles to make chipotles?]
Chipotles (chi pote lays) are a Mexican specialty, made by smoking red
Jalapeno peppers over mesquite wood. It's very easy to smoke chile peppers. I use an
electric water smoker but any smoker will work. I pick the red chiles the morning I am
going to smoke them. You can smoke just about any kind of chile, but to make authentic
chipotles, use only Jalapenos. I use, in addition to Jalapenos, Jalapas and Fresnos. Use
red peppers only, as the yellow, orange and green ones become a dirty color when smoked.
I wash the peppers and cut the tops off. I make one slit in the pepper
from top to bottom and remove the seeds and membrane with a melon-baller. Wear gloves to
do this or you will be hurting in a few hours. I like to leave the two halves attached and
open the pepper up, as this makes each piece bigger and less likely to fall through the
bars of the grill.
Start your smoker about an hour before you're ready to put on the
peppers and get it up to temperature,--180-200F. I put 1-2 liters of water in the pan of
my smoker and then cover the pan with aluminum foil and jab a few fork holes in it to let
out the steam. The foil will catch any peppers that fall through the grill rather than
them getting a bath. I use a third rack in my smoker and put it right on top of the water
pan. Put the peppers on the grills cross-wise so there is less chance of them falling
through the bars. The first few times I smoked peppers, I was careful to place them only
one pepper thick on the grills. Now I just pile them on about 2 inches thick on each rack.
They all get smoked fine. Close the lid and add smoking wood chips or chunks. I smoke mine
for about 4 hours, until they turn a smoky dark color. You want to avoid burning the
peppers. In my smoker, the outside perimeter of the round grills gets the hottest. So at
about every hour, I take the grills out and rearrange the peppers, exchanging the darker
ones from the rim with the less smoked ones in the middle. You will have to experiment
with your smoker.
The next step is to dry the smoked peppers. A dehydrator would be the
best piece of equipment for this, but since I don't have one, I use my gas oven. I set the
temperature at 150F and it takes 8-12 hours to get the peppers dry and crispy. They are
dry when you can crush them with you hand. When they are dry, I take about half of them
and grind them in a small coffee grinder to a powder. The other half I leave unground and
use them in adobo and barbecue sauces. Adding a few chipotle chiles to your favorite
barbecue sauce gives it real nice kick. The powder is great sprinkled on food, in soups
and on cream cheese spread on a cracker.
Check out the Chile-Heads recipe digest
for more information on making chipotles and using them in recipes and adobo sauces.