From the humble Guajillo to the very sophisticated Pasilla from Oaxaca, this is my easy guide to introduce you to the wonderful world of Mexican chillies.
Mexican cuisine wouldn’t be the same without the flavour of the Mexican chiles, they make our dishes more elegant and delicious . Moles wouldn’t even exists if it wasn’t for our chiles. In Mexico we have around fifty different types of chillies and when these are dried the varieties expand to more than a hundred. Some are more popular than others and they are chillies that are almost extinct, but in general, Mexican chillies make our food shine and take our dishes to another level of deliciousness.
In my family we love chillies. I have a very fond Mexican food memory of my dad toasting arbol chillies to make a salsa molcajeteada and the smell of the chillies would travel around our house within minutes. Every single corner of our house would have that pungent chilli smell and would make us cough and go outside. Those memories would always be in my heart.
I remember when I arrived to London, it was difficult to find Mexican dried chillies, even the most common ones, like ancho or Guajillo, so I used to smuggle from Mexico in my suitcase. But these days it is very easy to find Mexican chiles online or in some shops in the UK. Unfortunately is not the same case for fresh chillies. Jalapeños are the only fresh chilli that are found in the supermarkets and sometimes I find poblanos and serranos in markets or Mexican retailers, but at a very high price. At the end of this post, I will be writing the name of the places where I buy mine.
At home in London I use Mexican chillies all the time, either to make spicy salsas or make yummy adobos or moles. I usually have around nine types of Mexican chillies and I always make sure not to ran out of my favourite ones: guajillo, ancho, pasilla and morita.
Let me tell you a little bit about the chillies I have at home and whether you can find them in London or not.
This is an Ancho chilli, when it’s fresh it is called Poblano. This lovely chilli is, in my opinion, the most popular chilli in Mexico, together with its friend guajillo, they are the chilli kings. This ancho chile is not spicy, it is just to add flavour to your food through adobos, sauces, recaudos or moles.
I love using ancho chillies in my cooking, its aroma always takes me back to Mexico to my mum’s house. The smell is delicious as well as its flavour.
If you decide to use it in your recipes, I promise you will love it. It makes a brown colour sauce with earthy aromas.
Here are some of my recipes where I have used ancho:
A Guajillo chilli is a very versatile little fella. People in Mexico use it a lot, its delicious flavour is amazing for broths, soups, adobos, moles and other dishes. This is the chile I use to make my pozole.
When it’s fresh is called Mirasol, it is not a spicy chilli, but depending where you get it, sometimes can be a bit hot. It makes a beautiful red sauce and can be use to make salsas as well.
Here are some of the dishes where I use guajillos:
I love pasilla chilli, I think it is such an elegant chilli and it’s flavour is so extravagant. I always have this little beauty in my cupboard.
The fresh version of the pasilla chilli is chilaca. It is a long chilli and when you cook with it, it makes a brown bright sauce. Delicious for soups, broths, moles or adobos.
These are some of the recipes where I use pasilla:
Chile de Arbol
This is one chilli that can’t miss your pantry if you want to add a bit of heat to your Mexican recipes. It used to be my dad’s favourite chilli to make salsa molcajeteada, it is spicy, but not as spicy as other chillies we have in Mexico. In fact, it is six times hotter that the jalapeño. So it is perfect to add more flavour to any food.
I always make sure that I have some of these lovely chillis in my cupboard, specially to make my dad’s recipe salsa. It has a smoky sweet flavour and the heat is quite gentle, but moorish.
These are some of the recipes I cook with arbol chilli:
But if you want to add a more sophisticated flavour to a good spicy salsa, then you have to use a Morita chilli, it is my favourite chilli to use.
When it is fresh this chilli is called jalapeño. The jalapeño is also use to make chipotle chilli and mora chilli, but depending on the drying process that the jalapeño gets, it is call different.
This chilli is quite spicy and smoky, so it is the perfect ingredient for a salsa macha. I always have this chile in my pantry. Perfect for salsas, moles and adobos.
Here are some recipes where you can use morita:
There are more chillies that you now can find here in the UK, like the cascabel or chipotle and sometimes, you can even find the fresh version of some of them, like Poblano peppers, jalapeño or Serrano, but only when they are in season and sometimes they can be a bit expensive, but for a little treat is ok to pay those prices once a year.
Remember that even if the chillies are dry, they need to look healthy, so when you buy dried Mexican chillies, make sure that their colour still bright, also check that they have a bit of flexibility, don’t get them extremely dry, that they break easily.
To use them, clean them with a kitchen paper towel, then toast them slightly on hot frying pan with nothing on it. Then put them on a bowl and cover them with hot boiling water to bring them back to life.
These are the two places where I buy my dry chillies here in London:
So now you know a bit more about Mexican chillies. Go and buy some and start cooking, don’t be scare or intimidated by them, use them wisely and enjoy them. Here at home I use them every day, because they are a main part of a Mexican diet and any Mexican would not be able to live without them. They enrich our food and make it more delicious.
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