From Jalapeño to Chipotle
This year we have excellent jalapeños. I grew them from seed (El Jefe), and they are super-spicy — unlike last year's crop. We've already pickled several pints of slices for future plates of nachos, but we still have loads left on the plants. Yesterday we grabbed a pile of ones that have turned from green to red to preserve them in a new way: smoke them into chipotles.
While I cut the stems off of the ripe peppers, Kirk started the fire. He used newspaper (and apparently dried leaves) in the chimney to start some mesquite charcoal and scrap bits of cherry wood to burning:
Once the wood and charcoal were burning, he split it into two small fires on the sides of the grill, leaving the center open:
That center section is where the peppers go, since it isn't over direct heat. The idea is to heat the peppers slowly to dry them and infuse them with the smoke, not to burn them to a crisp:
Once the everything was in place, we put the lid on the grill but left the vents open. This lets some cool air in and allows the fire some oxygen to keep going:
After a while, inevitably, the fire goes out. When there's no more smoke pumping out of the holes, it's time to restart the fire. We did it a few time yesterday afternoon, but to be honest, we weren't keeping a very close eye on our smoking, so the fire died out.
Kirk went back at it again today though, and kept a fire up on one side of the grill, and moved the peppers to the other side:
Here the peppers are about halfway done. They are turning dark and are shriveling down as they lose their moisture in the dry, smoky heat.
After dinner (over a full day since we started them), our jalapeños were officially chipotle peppers:
These are dry and lightweight now, and they smell fantastic! Some were still slightly red and leathery, like a sun dried tomato in texture. These I put into a ziplock bag to freeze (which is exactly what we do with most of our dried tomatoes as well). Even though there's a small bit of moisture left in these, freezing should keep them perfectly well for the coming year.
Before freezing them, though, we took a bit of one. Just a tiny flake, maybe half the size of a pinky fingernail.
Our mouths were still burning, even after a spoonful of sour cream, a glass of milk, and lots of water.
And it should be noted that we are not wimps when it comes to spicy food.
Still, these knocked us on our heels and caused actual pain. Turns out our already very spicy jalapeños are ridiculously hot when dried, as all that capsaicin is now highly concentrated. That’s good to know, so we don't ruin a recipe by using too much. Seriously, a very tiny bit will go a long way in cooking, so the two dozen or so peppers we smoked could well be a year's supply.
Some of the peppers, instead of being leathery, were totally dried out — a little charred and a lot crispy. The charring probably isn't ideal, but the fact that they were completely dry made them easy to grind into a powder using our mortar and pestle:
This is now ready to go as a ground spice to use in cooking. I gave this a very cautious taste, and it seems less potent than the piece I had earlier. I'm guessing that the ratio of carbon to capsaicin is less deadly in the ground version, since much of what was easy to pulverize was the brittle, charred outer skin.
This doesn't look like much in a Mason jar, but now that we're a little afraid of it, it's probably enough to last quite a while. Despite the intense heat of the first bite, it does have a really excellent, smoky flavor. That flavor lingered longer than the pain, and I'm sure that when used on actual food it will be delicious.