Thursday, January 7, 2016

Vegetable Feature: Guajillo Peppers

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz
This week, we’re excited to feature a unique offering--the beautiful and somewhat feisty guajillo chile pepper! Pronounced “gwah-HEE-yoh,” these chiles are harvested and then dried on the farm towards the end of the growing season, giving us something to look  forward to as we find ourselves in the depths of winter.

Guajillo Chiles
Deep cranberry-red in color with a thin, leathery flesh, dried guajillos feature a moderately spicy yet somewhat tangy flavor profile. According to the Scoville scale, which measures the pungency of chile peppers, guajillos slide in somewhere between 2,500 and 4,000 units. Considering that this scale extends upwards of one million, guajillos can be regarded as a rather mild chile with a medium level of heat.

Guajillos are used extensively in Mexican cooking and add a wonderful depth of flavor to pastes, butters and rubs for various kinds of protein. They’re also easily featured in tamales, traditional Mexican molés, salsas, soups and stews. Renowned Mexican culinary authority Diana Kennedy, who has often been referred to as the Julia Child of Mexican cooking, advocates for using whole, dried chiles like guajillos and chiles de árbol whenever possible. In comparison to powders you can buy in the store, whole chiles bring a lot more to the table when it comes to spice, freshness and nuance. Mexican cuisine is not the only style of cooking you can incorporate guajillos into.  As you’ll see when you glance at this week’s recipe, they can also be used in Indian dishes and any other recipe where you’re looking for some heat.

When it comes to cooking with whole chiles—don’t be intimidated! Here are some basic steps to help you incorporate them into your regular culinary routine. First things first—don’t forget that the compounds in the dried chiles that give it heat are still active.  Handle with care and consider using gloves when handling them.  If you want a more mild effect from the guajillo, slice the chile open lengthwise, removing as many seeds and ribs as you can. Set a few seeds aside for later if you want the option to add more spice later.  If you want to embrace the heat, skip this step and just use the chile whole.  Next up comes the toasting process. Though this step is optional, it is highly recommended as it intensifies and develops the flavor of the guajillo.  Set a dry skillet over medium heat. Add your chiles and toast for 20 to 30 seconds per side or until you smell their fragrance and notice some browning on the skin. Once toasted, you’ll need to reconstitute your chiles. Place them in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes, then discard the water and get to chopping, blending or pureeing. If you’re a visual learner, head to YouTube and take a minute to check out Gourmet’s “The Test Kitchen: How to Clean and Use Dried Chiles.”

Guajillos will keep for more than one year if kept in a cool, dry location. Feel free to stash them in a clear jar and set them on a shelf where they can be seen and admired until you’re ready to put them to use!

Vindaloo Flank Steak

Serves 4
6-8 dried guajillo chiles, stem removed

1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
¾ cup distilled white vinegar
One 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves
1 small cinnamon stick
2 cloves
Kosher salt, to taste
One 1 ½ -lb flank steak
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
Black pepper, to taste
Warm paratha, pita or nann bread, yogurt and lime wedges, for serving

  1. In a saucepan, toast the chiles, cumin seeds and peppercorns over moderate heat, turning the chiles until pliable and the cumin is fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Carefully add ¾ cup water, vinegar, ginger, garlic, cinnamon stick, cloves and 1 tsp of salt and bring just to a boil.  Let stand off the heat until the chiles are soft, about 30 minutes.  Discard the cinnamon stick.
  2. Transfer the chile mixture to a blender and puree to a smooth paste.  In a baking dish, spread the paste all over the steak and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 6 hours.  Let stand at room temperature for 45 minutes before grilling. 
  3. Light a grill and brush with oil.  Scrape some of the marinade off the steak, then season the meat with salt and pepper.  Grill over moderately high heat, turning, until lightly charred and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 125°F, 10 to 12 minutes.Transfer the steak to a carving board and let rest for 5 minutes.  Thinly slice against the grain and serve with warm paratha or naan bread, yogurt and lime wedges.

HVF Note:  When I tested this recipe, I used an equal amount of skirt steak instead of the flank steak. It was a bit too chilly for grilling outside, so i just cooked the meat on the stovetop in a skillet.  The marinade seemed too valuable to not use it all, so I put all of the meat and the marinade in the pan and cooked it altogether.  We served the meat along with basmati rice, fresh cilantro, plain yogurt and lime wedges.  Most delicious!

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine magazine, May 2015.

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