WHAT IS IT?
Chipotle is pronounced “chi-POHT-lay.” Morita jalapeño chiles are the milder, more flavorful, and more popular varietal that is more commonly exported, because it’s tamer than the hotter Meco (brown) chipotle that is more popularly consumed in Mexico. The powdered chile is more commonly used in North America, but could easily substitute for as a slightly spicier replacement for a Hungarian smoked sweet paprika. It lacks the depth of Spanish smoked paprika.
The Morita varieal of chipotle is ripened on the plant as long as possible, to maximize the flavor, and sugars, of the fruit, as it turns from green to red. The peppers are then harvested, and immediately smoked for just a few days, until they become a leathery, smoky wonder. At 2,500 to 8,000 SHU, it’s a low, to lower-medium heat pepper, full of big smoky flavor. The ground is much easier to work with, than the reconstituted dry peppers that are boiled back into usefulness, traditionally, by Mexican cooks.
Native to Central America and Mexico, today it is commercially produced in various parts of Mexico, primarily Jalisco, Nayarit, Sinaloa, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes. There is also a large commercial production in New Mexico, in the United States.
- Tinga de Pollo
- Salsas and Moles
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- Mexican smoked gravlax – Northern Europe and South-of-the-Border collide in a sugar-salt-cured salmon with a delicately spicy chipotle-cumin flavor profile;
- Papaya, loaded with bay shrimp tossed in lime juice, avocado oil, salt, and basil, topped with sprinkle of chipotle;
- Aztec Shrimp – Skewers lightly marinated in a sun-dried tomato vinaigrette are seasoned with Maldon salt and chipotle, then grilled;
- Pasta Caccio e Chipotle – A riff on the simple Italian classic that substitutes chipotle powder for black pepper.
The name “chipotle” originates from the Aztec word for them, “chilpoctli,” which is simply: “smoked chile.” The process to preserve them was created by Mezoamerican peoples long before the Aztec. Columbus definitely came across smoky dried peppers, because today’s Spanish paprika, and other paprikas of Europe, originated in the Native American drying process. Today, they are still largely a staple of Mexican cooking, although migration, and chefs popularized them in TexMex, New Mexican, and Californian/New American cuisines.
In Central, and Southern, Mexico, fully ripened red jalapeños are cold-smoked in large pits, atop racks constructed of wood, traditionally, or metal, commercially. The fire is in a nearby pit, traditionally, or smoke box, commercially. A connecting tunnel, or tube, vents the smoke from the firebox into the base of the chile racks, bathing the ripened red jalapeõs in smoke, and gently drying them out.
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