Unfortunately, chipotle (the pepper) has received a bit of a bad rap lately from its association with the ever-popular Mexican restaurant chain’s struggle with E. coli, which in itself has nothing to do with its namesake pepper.
Chipotle (chee-POT-tieh) chili peppers are actually ripened (red), dry-smoked jalapeno chili peppers. These chilies are usually a dull tan to coffee color and measure approximately 2 to 4 inches in length and about an inch wide.
As much as one fifth of the Mexican jalapeno crop is processed into chipotles.
Chipotles date back prior to the Aztec civilization to a region that is now northern Mexico City. It is conjectured that the Aztecs smoked the chilies because the thick, fleshy jalapeno was difficult to dry and prone to rot. The Aztecs used the same smoke drying process for the chilies as they used for drying meats. This smoking allowed the chilies to be stored for a substantial period of time.
Today, chipotles are used widely throughout Mexico as well as in the United States. Quite popular in the Southwestern U.S. and California, chipotles have found their way into the cuisine of many celebrity chefs from Hawaii to Manhattan.
If you grow jalapenos of your own in your garden and want to make fresh chipotles of your own, it requires them to be smoked, of course. Mesquite wood is a popular choice. The best way to accomplish this would be on a BBQ grill with a tight-fitting cover. Simply build your fire, add soaked mesquite wood chips, close the lid and allow the jalapenos to smoke for at least an hour. The less heat applied to them without diminishing the smoke, the better.
At Nino’s, you’ll find chipotles in one of two forms: dried (in a clear cellophane bag) or canned in adobo sauce.
The recipe below is one I recommend for you to use if you want to preserve your fresh-smoked chipotles since dehydrating them is additional work. If you’re using fresh chipotles, you can skip the soaking in water part and go straight to the sauce part, beginning with the ketchup.
Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce: Makes about 3 Cups
12 Fresh or Dehydrated Chipotle Peppers
As Needed Boiling Water to Cover Chilies
1 Cup Ketchup
2 TBSP Lt. Brown Sugar
½ Cup Water
1 Cup Spanish Onion, Chopped
4 Lg Fresh Garlic Cloves, Chopped
½ Cup Cider Vinegar
½ tsp Kosher or Sea Salt
1 tsp Cracked Black Pepper
1. If using dehydrated peppers, soak them in boiling water until softened (about 30 minutes). Then, remove them from the water, remove the stems, pat them dry and place them in a bowl. If using fresh, after smoking them, just remove the stems and place them in a bowl.
2. Remove 4 chipotles from the bowl and place them in a food processor or blender with the ketchup and water. Blend until you have a uniform paste.
3. Add the blended chipotles and ketchup to a medium-size sauce pot and add the remaining chipotles.
4. Add the onions, garlic, salt, peppercorns and vinegar to the pan. Mix well.
5. Heat and simmer VERY SLOWLY for an hour and a half until a thick consistency (a crock pot works very well for this). If the sauce has dried out too much, add extra water as needed to maintain a thick sauce.
6. After the sauce and chipotles have cooked, place the entire mixture in a small, sterilized, freezer-safe container and freeze. They can also be canned using standard canning procedures.
Now, if you’re looking for a recipe to use your newly made chipotle peppers, here’s one of my favorites, which is a wonderful party dip.
Chipotle Queso Dip: Makes about 4 cups
1 Lb Processed American Cheese
½ to 1 Cup Cream (amt. is according to your desired thickness)
1 TBSP Butter
¼ Cup Green Onions, Chopped 1/4″
1 tsp Fresh Garlic, Minced
½ Cup Roma Tomato (seeded, chopped 1/4″ pieces)
1 Chipotle Pepper (in adobo sauce)
As Needed Warm Water
1. In a small sauce pan, heat butter and sauté green onions and garlic one minute until softened but not browned.
2. Add cheese, cream (begin with ½ cup) and chopped tomato. Slowly bring up to a simmer.
3. Remove 1 chipotle with 1 TBSP of the adobo sauce, mince together until fine, and then add it to the cheese and sauce mixture.
4. Bring to a slow simmer while stirring.
5. Adjust thickness of Queso Dip, depending on your preference by adding additional cream or warm water.
6. Serve warm with crisp tortilla chips.