Drying chiles is more than just a way to preserve their flavor to use after the growing season is over. Dried chiles have a distinctive flavor, so they are used in a different way than fresh chiles. In fact, the dried and fresh version of the same species often have different names, as well as flavor profiles so different that one might never guess they started off as the same chile.
Dried chiles are sometimes soaked in hot water to reconstitute and then chopped or puréed, often in sauces or added to stews, while other times they are toasted and ground into a powder and added to dishes.
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Ancho and Mulato Chiles
When a poblano chile is dried, it either becomes an ancho chile, which is a bit red in color, or a mulato, which is almost black. Get this—there is no way of knowing which one the fresh poblano is going to become! In either case, the dried ancho or mulato tends to be significantly hotter than the fresh green poblano.
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Chiles de Arbol and Chiles Secos
Chiles de arbol are widely available, especially in stores with Mexican food sections. They are small and stay bright red when dried. They are not particularly flavorful—they're just plain hot. Chiles de Arbol add a big boost of heat to soups, stews, and sauces. They are usually used whole, added to sautées or thrown into stews or soups.
Chiles secos are similar but a bit bigger than chiles de arbol. Although the name simply means "dried chiles" in Spanish, it's usually used to refer to serrano chiles that have been allowed to ripen until red and then dried. Chiles secos are a wee bit bitter, with only the slightest whiff of serranos' characteristic grassy flavor left. They are not terribly common in the U.S., although they often can be found in Latin American markets.
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Chipotles are ripe, red, dried, and smoked jalapeño peppers that have become a bit sweet and very hot, with plenty of smoky flavors. They are sold dried but chipotles are more commonly available in cans packed in a vinegary tomato sauce called adobo. The chiles and the sauce are quite spicy, with tons of layers of flavor.
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Pasillas are long, thin and almost black in color. They can be very hot, so the heat-phobic should beware. Pasilla chiles add a distinctive, slightly astringent flavor to dishes, making them well suited to balancing out heavy stews and rich sauces. They're also often served stuffed, with the innards removed and replaced with a bit of ground meat and cheese.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Pequín chiles are also known as chiles pequeños, or "little chiles," for good reason—they are quite tiny, just about half an inch long. They are a bright orange-red and have a lovely sweet, smoky flavor along with their bright heat. They tend to be used whole, simmered in sauce or stew to add flavor.
Pequín chiles are much loved in Mexico but are harder to grow. Therefore, they tend to cost more than other types of chile peppers.