Fresco - Seco : a guide to fresh & dried chiles

Fresco-Seco Fresh and Dried Chile Peppers 

Most grocery stores carry several kinds of fresh chile peppers from around the world and in the summer months, farmers’ markets often carry an even larger variety of locally grown peppers.  Pull out a recipe for a Latin, Asian, or Southwestern dish and it will likely call for some kind of fresh or dried chiles.  This is all great news until you try to sort out the confusing array of names for all these spicy specialties.

Here’s a quick guide to to help you with some of the most commonly called-for chiles:


Fresco (Fresh)

  • Poblano A poblano is a large, long mild pepper that is most often purchased green.  It’s used in soups or stuffed for chiles rellenos in place of Anaheim chiles.
  • Jalapeño Jalapeños are commonly found green but also sometimes available red ripened.  They are the backbone of salsa and chili and often minced into meat or seafood dishes to pique the flavor.  They can be stuffed with cheese and grilled or breaded and fried for a classic snack.  Canned jalapeños are often pickled and sliced for nachos.
  • Hungarian Yellow Wax These fresh peppers arealso known as a banana peppers.  They can be sweet or hot so check the signage.  They’re best used in salads and salsas when the skin is yellow and the flesh is crisp.
  • De Arbol This thin skinned chile is often used to infuse pickles, vinegar, or spirits.  It can minced into spicy dishes as well.
  • Serrano These peppers look a little like a smaller version of a jalapeño.  They are sold green or red, fresh or canned.  Use anywhere you want a bit more kick than a jalapeño.
  • Cayenne While not as common fresh, cayenne is often used in Asian and Indian dishes.  It’s the basis for many Louisiana style hot sauces as well.
  • Bird’s Eye or Thai Chile These small, slightly rounded chiles are found at Asian markets and pack a lot of punch.  Sometimes slightly larger and longer shaped chiles labelled as “Thai Chiles” are actually Thai Dragon chiles with a similar heat level.
  • Habañero Habanero chiles lend that blistering kick to salsas, chiles, and hot sauces.  Red Savina is the hottest form of habañero and packs quite a punch.  The slightly milder and sweeter cousin, the Scotch bonnet, is a mainstay in Caribbean cooking.

Seco (Dried)

  • Ancho An ancho is the dried form of the smallest & lightest poblanos.  They’re available whole or ground and lend a mild but rich flavor to rubs, soups, stews and the classic Mexican sauce, molé.
  • Mulato A mulato is a larger, darker dried poblano.  Available whole or ground, it is one of the trinity of chiles found in Mexican molé along with ancho and pasilla. 
  • Chipotle (“chee-POHT-lay”) A chipotle is a smoked, dried red jalapeño.  Its familiar smokiness heats up barbecue and hot sauces, rubs, chili, beans, and many Southewestern & Latin dishes.
  • Jalapeño Red or green jalapeños that have been dried, but not smoked, can be found whole or ground.
  • Pasilla Pasilla or chile negro is the dried form of a chilaca pepper and is almost always found dried or ground.  It’s classically used in Mexican molé along with ancho and mulato chiles.
  • Guajillo This is a dried mirasol pepper.  It has a tough skin that requires soaking before use.  They are often used in similar recipes to ones calling for ancho.
  • De Arbol De arbol chiles have a thin skin for ease of drying and are used to infuse oil, vinegar or spirits.
  • Cayenne Dried, ground cayenne powder has been a staple on household pantry shelves for generations and a pinch piques the flavor of many a dish from mild to spicy.
  • Habañero Dried habañeros are purchased whole or ground and are sometimes blended with other ground chiles for a balanced flavor.  They add a substantial kick to dishes.

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