When you see the word “chipotle,” the chain restaurant may come to mind before the actual ingredient does. While the popular restaurant has made the “chipotle” iconic, the real deal—the actual chipotle peppers—have been gaining some increased culinary attention of their own.
Across the country, chipotle peppers have been popping up on menus in everything from chicken dishes to soups to chocolate desserts. Today they’re used in much more than just Southwestern themed dishes, although chipotles have been, of course, a favorite in those foods for years.
What Is A Chipotle Pepper?
Despite their name, chipotle peppers aren’t their own type of pepper at all, but are actually smoked jalapeño peppers. Smoking the jalapeños changes them into a whole new form. They shrivel up like prunes and offer a distinctly different flavor from jalapeños—sweet and smoky with a mild, pleasantly spicy kick.
These versatile babies can be made less spicy by removing their seeds, and they come in different varieties depending on the jalapeño used. For example, chipotlesmecos are larger, brown chipotles, while chipotlesmoritas are smaller and deep red in color. You can buy ground chipotle peppers as a spice, purchase them whole or smoke your own jalapeños.
Using Them at Home
Don’t think of chipotles as a once-in-awhile ingredient you can only enjoy at a gourmet restaurant. These rich peppers have been used for centuries in Mexican home cooking. Originally, jalapeños were smoked and turned into chipotle peppers as a way to preserve fast-deteriorating jalapeños. You can use chipotles—and often—in your own kitchen.
A much-loved way to dish up chipotle peppers is in a tomato-vinegar sauce called adobo. This handy method allows you to use the chipotle peppers as a standalone element or to incorporate them into a dish. You can simply spoon chipotles in adobo sauce on top of meats, rice, beans, tacos, quesadillas or sandwiches for extra flavor. Or, add chipotles in adobo sauce to traditional comfort foods to make them distinctly more grown up, like with macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. Chipotles in adobo sauce can also be used as a cooking ingredient to spice up soups, make salsa, give sauces some pep, and so much more.
Although canned chipotles in adobo sauce are readily available in grocery stores (often in the Hispanic section), you may find it more difficult to locate an organic brand, and it's always better homemade anyhow! Try this tasty recipe to make Chipotles in Adobo Sauce from scratch.
With just the chipotles (minus the adobo sauce), you can puree them yourself to use as a marinade for meats, grind them up to make your own spice, add them to yogurt or mayonnaise for a fun spin on traditional condiments and more. Get creative with these versatile peppers. Add them to anything where you want more depth of flavor and a soft bite of spice.
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