Chipotle Peppers: What they are, how to use them

Associated Press photo by MATTHEW MEADBefore serving this  chipotle barbecue porky pappardelle dish, top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of chives.
Associated Press photo by MATTHEW MEADBefore serving this chipotle barbecue porky pappardelle dish, top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of chives.

Pay no attention to the many shelves of faux salsas (Blueberry-pineapple? Really?) and shove aside all those cans of low-fat, low-sodium, no-flavor refried beans.

For this week’s underappreciated ingredient, you will need to dig a bit deeper into your grocer’s Hispanic section. Your goal? Mexico’s gift to high-flavor cooking — chipotle peppers in adobo sauce.

Typically sold in 7-ounce cans, these not entirely attractive (truth is, they look a bit prunelike) peppers pack gobs of smoky, chocolaty, slightly sweet piquancy.

First, the basics. Chipotles are really just jalapeñ o peppers that have been dried and smoked. In the U.S., they most often are sold canned in adobo sauce, a smooth tomato-vinegar blend spiked with garlic, onion and various spices.

The result is that you essentially get two ingredients in each can: peppers and sauce. The peppers marinate in the adobo, taking on its sweet tang. Meanwhile, the sauce absorbs some of the peppers’ heat.

But you don’t need to be a heat fiend to appreciate these flavor bombs. Jalapeñ os are hardly the most intense chili around. Still, most people will find that one to two is plenty for most dishes.

Some people suggest you can moderate the heat by slicing the chipotles open and scraping out the seeds, much as you would with fresh jalapeñ os. That’s way too much trouble for me. I’d rather just use less. Or use just the sauce.

One can is likely to last you a while. Though leftovers can be refrigerated for a couple weeks, your best bet is to divide the peppers and sauce into an ice cube tray, then freeze for easy use whenever.

Not surprisingly, chipotles in adobo sauce are wonderful in Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes. Chop them and mix them into shredded cheese for topping nachos. Dice or puré e a few to crank up the heat of your favorite chili. Marinate beef strips in the sauce for tacos. Dice them and add to salsa (no cranberries, please).

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For more ideas for using chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, check out the Off the Beaten Aisle column over on Food Network: http://bit.ly/mw41sx