Chilli powder (chili in the US, chile in Spanish speaking Central and South America) is a key ingredient for us. It features in a lot of rub recipes and of course is essential when making a Chilli con carne.
Here in the UK we’ve traditionally only been able to buy very ordinary, pre-packaged chilli powder – Generally a mix of unspecified “chilli pepper”, cayenne, cumin, salt, oregano and garlic, with some anti-caking agent thrown in for good measure. It always did the job, but was pretty uninspiring in flavour. However, in recent years, we’ve begun to see increased availability of specific variety chilli powders along with whole dried chillies, not only from specialist shops, but even in our supermarkets. Dried chillies are a beautiful thing – Such an incredible mix of colours, textures and aromas.
With such an incredible variety of chillies readily available now, there’s really no excuse not to dump that bland old jar in your spice cupboard and create your own blend. You’ll be blown away by the complexity and depth of flavour you’ll get from making your own, plus it’s really easy!
The recipe below makes a great, multi-layered chilli powder, full of flavour, with a good pop of heat. Don’t worry if you can’t get your hands on all of the specific types of chilli mentioned here; Part of the fun is playing around with different quantities and varieties to create a blend that is unique to you. If you want more heat, add a greater volume of the hotter varieties or conversely, reduce the amount if you want a milder powder. Just remember, that you can add heat, but you can’t take it away, so it’s worth erring on the side of caution. You can always add some cayenne or habanero to beef up the heat when cooking with your blend.
The chillies used in this recipe are (clockwise from top left):
Ancho (Scoville Heat Units: 1000-2000): Chile ancho is a dried poblano pepper and makes up part of the “Holy Trinity” of Mexican chiles. The flavour is deep and earthy, with hints of dried fruit and tobacco. We suggest always using Anchos as the base for your chilli powder
Mulato (Scoville Heat Units: 2000-3000): The mulato makes up the second pillar of the Mexican Holy Trinity and is closely related to the ancho. It comes from a slightly different variety of poblano, which has been left to ripen further than the Ancho. Again, mulatos are quite mild. The flavour is sweeter and slightly smokier, with hints of coffee and liquorice.
Passila (Scoville Heat Units: 1000-2500): The final part of the Mexican Holy Trinity, passilas are dried chilaca peppers. The flavour is earthy and pungent, with almost cherry notes.
Guajillo (Scoville Heat Units: 2500-5000): Guajillos are dried mirassol peppers and a bigger, milder relative of de árbol chillies. Deep red in colour, they have a complex sweet, vegetal flavour, with hints of green tea.
Chipotle Morita (Scoville Heat Units: 5000-10000): One of our favourites, the chipotle is a ripened, smoke-dried jalapeño. They pack a good punch of heat and the sweet, chocolatey smell and flavour is incredible! Currently it’s difficult to find new stock of imported chipotles in Europe, due to the presence of anthraquinone (AQ), (a chemical formed during the smoking process) at higher levels than are permitted by the EU. However, the good people at Chilli Pepper Pete’s have AQ free moritas available to order online.
Chipotle Meco (Scoville Heat Units: 5000-10000): The Morita’s older, slightly more sophisticated sibling. The jalapeño is picked when it is riper and is smoked for several days, giving the meco its dry, tan, almost leathery appearance. Flavour wise, think like the morita, but deeper and richer, with slight grassy notes. Sadly, we’re not aware of any AQ-free supplies in the UK and I’m down to my last bag!
New Mexico Red (Scoville Heat Units: 1000-2000): The New Mexico Red is a sweet, mild chilli, with a clean, slightly earthy flavour. This is a great chilli for use in chilli con carne.
Chile De Árbol (Scoville Heat Units: 15000-30000): The de árbol is closely related to the cayenne pepper, but gives up a bit of cayenne’s heat in exchange for flavour. It still packs a really nice punch though and has a fresh, grassy flavour with hints of nuttiness.
(Makes about a 1 cup of chilli powder)
- 5 dried Ancho chillies
- 3 dried Mulato chillies
- 3 dried Pasilla chillies
- 2 dried Guajillo chilles
- 2 dried Chipotle Morita chillies
- 2 dried Chipotle Meco chillies
- 2 dried New Mexico chillies
- 1-3 dried De Árbol chillies (dependant on heat required)
- 1 tablespoon good quality Spanish paprika
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican Oregano
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin powder
Remove any stems from the chillies, then remove the seeds and any membrane. Cut the chillies in half, lengthways and then, depending on size/shape, cut these sections in half, so that you’ve got nice, flat pieces of dried chilli.
Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan to medium and lightly toast in batches, until the aroma is released and you start to see patches change colour and blister slightly. Be careful not to over cook them, as this will give you a bitter end product. The pieces should still be flexible when removed from the pan, but will firm up as they cool.
Leave to cool on a plate or chopping board for 10 minutes – This will help avoid clumping when you go to grind them.
In batches again, place the chilli pieces in your spice grinder and blitz until you get a powder.
Once you’ve ground all of your chillies add the other ingredients and mix well.
Store your chilli powder in a jar, in a cool, dark cupboard for up to 6 months – It will still be usable after this time, but it will gradually lose flavour.