Canned Chipotle Peppers and their uses

Chipotles and their canned variations

A chipotle is a smoked and dried jalapeño pepper.  Jalapeños are grown and typically harvested for the fresh market when they are green.  Some are allowed to ripen all the way to a bright red for very select fresh markets.  Because the ripe, red jalapeños are nearer to the end of their season, they have a shorter fresh-life.  The ones which have lost most of their moisture are selected for smoking on metal grills by a wood fire for days until they wrinkle up like raisins.  They still have the same heat level as a fresh jalapeño but with a smoky, roasted flavour.  

Depending on what variety of jalapeño and where it came from, the chipotle will have a different flavour profile, appearance, and heat level.  The most common variety in North America is the chipotle morita.  Chipotles can be purchased as whole, dried chile pods, ground into powder, as chili flakes, in paste form, or canned.  They are a staple of Mexican, Southwestern, and Tex-Mex cooking.

Chipotle is quickly becoming a favourite flavour in all sorts of recipes and products, from chipotle mayo to use as a sandwich spread or dipping sauce for fries, to chili and stew recipes, to the seasoning for everything from salad dressings to potato chips.  Though not everyone likes a strong, smoky flavour, it’s safe to say that North Americans in general have been falling fast for the chipotle.

Canned chipotles are often referenced in recipes.  They have a slightly softened texture but are still somewhat firm-fleshed and mostly whole.  The chiles can be removed from the canning liquid or the entire contents can be used.  There are actually two distinct types of canned chipotles and the author of a recipe may not make, or even know, the distinction.  For many recipes, they can be used interchangeably, but in some cases, one is better suited than the other.  Here’s a guide:

San Marcos Chipotles in Adobo

Canned Chipotles in Adobo* (piments chilpotle en sauce): This is the most common type of canned chipotle north of the Mexican border.  Adobo is the Spanish word for a marinade or sauce used to preserve or enhance the flavour of raw foods.  In the case of canned chipotles, it is a picante sauce made from tomato puree, vinegar, onion, oil, sugar, salt, paprika, and garlic.  The chipotle peppers are preserved in this sauce.

This variety is best suited when the chipotle pepper and adobo sauce will be used together and where a spicy, vinegary, tomato based ingredient is desired.  You don’t want to waste the flavourful adobo sauce.  Chipotle peppers and adobo sauce are often pureed together into a medium consistency paste or sauce.  They are great for use in chili, stews, barbecue sauce, baked beans, and thick sauces or dips.  They can be used in marinades for beef, chicken, and pork.  Less so for seafood.

Pickled Chipotle Peppers (piments chilpotle mariné or piments chilpotle en escabeche): Mariné and escabeche refer to an acidic marinade common in Mediterranean, Caribbean, and Latin cuisine.  This variety of canned chipotle is in a marinade or “pickling” liquid of tomato puree, sugar, onion, vinegar, oil, salt, and spices.  The sauce contains much less tomato puree than adobo and has a slightly sweeter, tangy flavour.  Chipotles in this marinade have slightly firmer flesh and are more intact than the chipotles in adobo.  

Pickled chipotles are best used in recipes that call for draining them from their liquid, or that have you chop the peppers, since they are easier to handle.  They are also suited to marinades, but where a little more acid is called for, such as for seafood, as well as chicken, pork, and vegetables.  The sweeter, acidic canning liquid in combination with the peppers lends a nice flavour to salad dressings and grilled vegetables.

* Adobo in Filipino cuisine is a distinctly different dish, although based on the same Spanish origin.  Similarly, wet adobo marinades and dry adobo seasoning salts are Puerto Rican variations on the same Spanish theme.

by Anna Russell

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