Danielle Walsh, photo by Peden + Munk
The world of chiles is a vast one. Just the sheer number of different types is mind-boggling—I mean, off the top of your head, do you know the difference between a Chilaca and a Cubanelle? (Yeah, us neither.) But there are a bunch of ways you can buy them, too: powdered, dried, fresh, and flaked. We talked to senior food editor Dawn Perry to clarify how to harness the heat and the flavor of each type.
“Be careful when you’re buying chili powder—it often has other stuff in it besides ground chiles. Spices and seasonings like cumin, oregano, and salt can sometimes find their way into the mix. Read the label and know what you’re getting into before buy (we recommend finding one that has only one ingredient, like ancho chile). We like to use it in long-cooked stews—like chili—but just make sure you cook it with your mirepoix to avoid that raw spice taste.”
SEE MORE: 16 Recipes to Use Up Leftovers, Clean Out Your Fridge
“Use fresh chiles in quick-cooking dishes like stir-fries, salads, salsas, infused vinegars, pickles, and muddled cocktails. They bring a bright pop of heat versus a slow burn, like their dried counterparts.”
“We like to use dried chiles to infuse things like cream, broth, stock, even pasta water. We also rehydrate them and blend them into super-spicy toasted chile salsas. They have a lower, slower burn than fresh chiles, but also have a sweeter, raisin-like quality. Make sure to toast them before using them, though—heat will bring out their flavor.”
SEE MORE: 6 Ways You’re Messing Up Your Salad
“Don’t be fooled—chile flakes (a.k.a. crushed red pepper flakes) are very different from dried chiles. They’re good to use when you need a measured amount of dried chile. If you add them to a dish at the beginning, it makes the whole thing spicy; if you add them at the end, they give nice pops of heat. The only problem with these jarred flecks is that you never know how old they are, and, therefore, how spicy they’ll be. Older chile flakes are tamer, while young chile flakes can blow you away with spice. Be careful before you unload them into a dish.”