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Sunday Food: Chipotle, the Flavor

Peppers, dried and in bins

Peppers, dried and in bins

(Picture courtesy of Janet lackey at flickr.com.)

Since all over the restaurant ads lately I keep seeing chipotle items mentioned, and here in Great Britain it’s popping up too, it seemed like a time to talk about what the word means.   There is the chain of restaurants by that name, too, of course, and since the first Hillary Clinton solo visit and the choice of a DIY dish,  the system of creating your own dish with choice of ingredients that the chain features has been brought to public consciousness.

The chipotle pepper is dried, from fields of fat hot jalapeño peppers , and as an ingredient has the virtue of durability as well as giving that heat we like, to hispanic and southwestern U.S. cooking.

A chipotle (/ɨˈptl/, chi-poht-lay; Spanish: [tʃiˈpotle]), or chilpotle, which comes from the Nahuatl word chilpoctli (meaning “smoked chili”), is a smoke-driedjalapeño. It is a chili used primarily in Mexican and Mexican-inspired cuisines, such as Mexican-American, Tex-Mex, and southwestern dishes.

Varieties of jalapeño vary in size and heat. In Mexico, the jalapeño is also known as the cuaresmeño and gordo. Until recently, chipotles were largely found in the markets of central and southern Mexico. As Mexican food became more popular abroad, especially in the United States and Canada, jalapeño production and processing began to expand into northern Mexico to serve the southwestern United States, and eventually processing occurred in the United States and other places such as China.

(snip)

Most chipotle chilis are produced in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.[2] This variety of chipotle is known as a morita (Spanish for small mulberry). In central and southern Mexico, chipotle chilis are known as chile meco, chile ahumado, or típico. Whereas moritas from Chihuahua are purple in color, chile meco is tan/grey in color and has the general appearance of a cigar butt. Most chipotle chilis found in the United States are of the morita variety. Almost all of the chipotle meco is consumed in Mexico.

Chipotles are purchased in forms, including chipotle powder, chipotle pods, chipotles en adobo in a can, concentrated chipotle base and wet chipotle meat marinade.

Other varieties of chilis are smoke-dried, including red jalapeños, serranos, habaneros, New Mexico chilis, Hungarian wax peppers, Santa Fe Grande chilis, and a milder jalapeño called the TAM (a cultivarnamed for Texas A&M University). Lesser-known varieties of smoked chilis include cobán, a piquín chilenative to southern Mexico and Guatemala; pasilla de Oaxaca, a variety of pasilla from Oaxaca used in mole negro; jalapeño chico, jalapeños, smoked while still green; and capones (“castrated ones”), a rare smoked red jalapeño without seeds.

The element I’ve found in the British concept of hot peppers mainly occurs in hot sauce, bottled, on the side.   When I have ordered things described as chipotle flavored, the heat is just not there.   Of course, that’s often true in U.S. food in restaurants, and the tendency to make public attraction of food that’s dependably bland is a fault of large scale production.

There are a lot of advantages of having peppers dried, but for my taste, the hot fresh peppers are the best seasoning for a really enjoyable heat in any dish.

(Picture courtesy of wormwould at flickr.com.)

A variety of fresh peppers

A variety of fresh peppers

This is my last post from over here on the other side of the pond, and I’ll be leaving Tuesday from Heathrow, landing late and jet lagged in Pittsburgh, talk to you next from NW PA.   While it’s been good to be in London, visit my longtime friend, and Avedon very appreciative of my help, I do not want to move away from home base again for a long, long time.

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Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.