Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Guajillo Chile Peppers

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz
Our featured vegetable this week is an exciting one—the beautiful and ever-so-sultry guajillo chile pepper! Pronounced “gwah-HEE-yoh,” we dry ripe, fresh guajillos at the end of the summer so we will have them to enjoy in the winter. Their deep cranberry-red color has made them attractive not only for their culinary uses but also for their ornamental applications. (I’ll admit it—I have a string of these chiles hanging in my kitchen purely for aesthetic purposes.) Guajillos offer a moderately spicy and tangy flavor—you may even pick up on a hint of citrus. The Scoville scale, which measures the pungency of chile peppers, places guajillos somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 units on a scale that—believe it or not—extends beyond one million!
According to Rick Bayless, a well-known American chef who specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine, guajillos are “workhorse chiles with a lot of dazzle.” They are used extensively in Mexican cooking and lend their rich flavor to pastes, butters, and rubs for various kinds of meat. Almost invariably, guajillos are also used in making salsa for tamales. Bayless makes the case for using whole, dried chiles like guajillos and chiles de arbol rather than store-bought powders, insisting that dried chiles bring more spice and freshness to a dish, offering nuances that you would otherwise almost certainly miss. A similar comparison can be made between freshly cracked peppercorns and the shaker-grind variety of pepper that may have spent the last few months hanging out in your pepper jar.
While the thought of cooking with whole chiles may seem somewhat intimidating, I promise you that working these ingredients into your culinary routine is much easier than you may think. First off, when working with dried chiles, it’s always a good idea to wear gloves. Once the gloves are on, cut or slice your chile open lengthwise and remove as many seeds and ribs as you can. If you prefer your food spicier, feel free to reserve a few seeds for later. Next up we have the toasting process, which assists in further intensifying the flavor of your chiles. In a dry skillet or frying pan over medium heat, toast chiles for 20-30 seconds per side, taking care not to burn them. At this point, your chiles are ready for reconstitution. Soak the guajillos in warm water for 15-20 minutes and then drain them, discarding the water as it will have taken on a bitter flavor. Now you’re ready to chop, blend, or puree your guajillos. For a step-by-step visual guide, head to YouTube and search for “
The Test Kitchen: How to Clean and Use Dried Chiles—Gourmet Magazine.” If you’re a visual learner, this 3-minute video will be immensely helpful.
Guajillos can be used to make traditional Mexican molé, sauces for enchiladas, or incorporate them into tasty soups and stews.  They will keep for more than a year if stored in a dry location.  Feel free to put them in a jar on a shelf where they can be seen and enjoy their beauty until you are ready to use

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