ANCHO CHILE PEPPER
When Poblano chiles are dried they become the richly flavored sweet and spicy chile we know as, Ancho Chile Pepper. They vary in color from dark brick red to deep mahogany with a medium thick flesh. Mildly aromatic with smoky floral notes and essence of prune, the Ancho Chile Pepper is the sweetest of the dried chiles. They are flat, very wrinkled and almost heart-shaped with a broad stem end that tapers to a rounded tip. Anchos give a sweet plum-raisin-like flavor to dishes. Scoville units: 3-4 (1000-2000)
Poblano chiles, Capsicum Annum, when dried are called Ancho Chiles (pronounced “AHN CHō”). Poblano is a mild chile native to the Mexican State of Puebla. The dried poblano is called chile ancho which translates to “wide chile”. Ancho Chiles are the most commonly used dried chile in Mexico. In this country Poblano Chiles are best known for their starring role in chile rellenos.
History of Poblano Chiles
“Chile poblano” translates to “chile from Puebla” in Spanish. Puebla City is the capital of the state of Puebla, and is Mexico’s fourth largest city. Historically considered one of the five most important Spanish colonial cities in Mexico it has also played a key role in shaping Mexican cuisine. The patriotic dish Chiles en nogada was created to honor the Mexican General Agustin de Iturbide (also known as Augustine of Mexico). During the Mexican War of Independence he commanded the army that seized control of Mexico City in early 1821, gaining freedom for Mexico. He is also credited as the original designer of the first Mexican flag.
On August 24, 1821 General Agustin de Iturbide signed the Treaty of Cordoba in Veracruz securing Mexico’s independence from Spanish rule. After executing the treaty he stopped in Puebla on his way back to Mexico City. Legend has it that local nuns from the Santa Monica convent created the first Chiles en nogada dish as a tribute to him with the green, white and red colors of the Mexican flag serving as inspiration.
The green was represented by the color of the Poblano chile, the white from the sauce topping the chile and the red from the garnish of the red pomegranate seeds. This dish is traditionally served at room temperature.
Poblano Chile Cultivation
Poblano chile plants reach a height of about 3-5 feet. They prefer full sunlight and need a moderate amount of water. A poblano takes between 100-115 days from seed to harvest and requires soil temperatures of at least 65°F to germinate. Each poblano plant can be harvested several times during its growing season and one plant can produce around 3 pounds, or 18-20 chiles each.
Poblanos are harvested when they’re still green. Chiles that are designated to become Anchos are left on the vine until they have turned red at which point they are harvested and dried. Mulato chiles (which also come from the same plant) are allowed to fully ripen turning a dark brown before they’re harvested and dried.
The leading producers of Poblano chiles are Mexico, Peru and the US. In this country fresh Poblano chile pepper production has declined significantly in the 10-15 years due to increased global competition, ongoing labor issues, volatile market prices, inefficient agricultural practices and increased instances of drought. This has made it progressively more difficult for producers in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas to grow peppers profitably.
Depending on the time of year our Ancho Chiles may come from either Mexico or the US.
Cooking with Ancho Chiles
The Ancho Chile is a key chile in the famous “holy trinity” of Mexican chiles used in Mexican moles, along with the Pasilla Negro and the Mulato chiles. As they both come from Poblano chiles, Mulato chiles are closely related to the Ancho chile but the flavor profile is different, as they are picked and dried at different times (this is similar to the differences between Chipotle “Morita” and “Meco” chiles).
The staple chile in authentic Mexican cooking, Anchos are a critical ingredient in red chili, tamales, many moles, enchiladas, salsa, soups and any sauce that may need some extra mild heat. You can add them directly to your recipes – sliced, diced or pureed.
The whole dried pod can be ground in a blender (with or without the seeds, depending on your heat and flavor preferences) or you may want to skip the work and use our popular Ancho Chili Powder instead. If you want to impart an authentic Mexican flavor to your food, use whole Ancho chiles for optimal flavor.
Some cooks prefer to lightly toast their Ancho Chiles first, for even more flavor, and they can easily be re-hydrated by pouring hot water or broth over them and letting them sit for 10-20 minutes. Don’t let them soak much longer than that, as they may become bitter. A puree of soaked chile Anchos will be reddish brown in color with a rich, mild, almost sweet taste and slightly bitter undertones.
When re-hydrating Ancho Chile we like to save the liquid as it absorbs the great flavor from the softened chiles. Use the liquid in the recipe at hand, or save it to lend flavor depth to braises, soups and stews.
Per ounce, Anchos Chile Pepper provide more pulp than most dried chiles. The heat of the chile comes from the veins inside the chile and before rehydrating we prefer to remove some of the seeds as these lend more bitterness to the finished recipe.
Some of our favorite recipes using Dried Ancho Chiles are Pozole Rojo and Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas.
Ancho Chile Pepper Appearance, Flavor and Heat Profile
This heart shaped dried chile pepper is about 3″ wide and 4″ in length and tapers to a point. A top quality Ancho Chile Pepper should be clean, pliable, untorn and aromatic with a smell that is a bit like prunes.
Our Ancho chiles are typically very pliable but even our chiles by the time July and August rolls around, which is right before we receive that year’s new harvest (which we typically receive between mid-October and mid-November), will not be quite as pliable. Ancho Chile peppers are a deep, reddish brown to black in color and the texture is wrinkled.
Ancho Chiles have a mild fruity flavor with undertones of plum, raisin, tobacco and a slight earthy bitterness.
Anchos contain vitamin A, C, and B vitamins and significant amounts of iron, thiamine, niacin, magnesium and riboflavin. Chiles are cholesterol-free, saturated fat-free, low calorie, low sodium, and high in fiber.
ANCHO CHILE SAUCE
Remove the stem and seeds from the peppers and put them into a heat safe bowl. Cover with boiling water and let sit for 20-30 minutes so that the peppers will reabsorb the water and plump back up.
- 2-5 Ancho chile pepper dried
- 6 cups water
- salt to taste
- Boil the water
- Remove the stems from the dried peppers
- Remove the seeds if you want less heat
- Place them in a heat safe bowl and cover with boiling water
- Let sit for 20-30 minutes, until the peppers have become soft
- Put the peppers and a two tablespoons of the steeping water into a blender and puree until smooth
- Add salt to taste
Ancho Chile Substitutions, Helpful Hints and Conversions
Substitutions for Ancho chiles are Multo or Guajillo Chiles.
1 whole Ancho chile = 1 heaping tablespoon of ancho powder which is also equal to approximately 1/4 oz.