Heating things up Chipotle chilies give dishes a chic, new attitude

September 02, 1998|By Cathy Thomas | Cathy Thomas,Orange County Register

No wonder chipotle chilies are chic. Their deep, rounded heat leaves a subtle smoky finish on the palate. A hint of smokehouse bacon without the fat.

Some foodies taste the whisper of chocolate in chipotles (chih-POHT-lays). Even hazelnuts.

Chipotles breathe soul into soup. Turn meatloaf into heat loaf.

An instant cure for bean, beef or broccoli boredom.

Red-ripened jalapenos that have been smoked and dried, chipotles are sold either canned in adobo sauce (a puree of tomatoes, onions, vinegar and spices) or in dry form packaged in small cellophane bags.

Usually, the canned chipotles are the easiest to find. They're sold at Hispanic markets, specialty shops and some supermarkets. The cans are small, usually about 7 ounces. As many as 18 whole chipotles cram the can. Adobo fills in the gaps, coating each chili with rust-colored sauce.

But most recipes call for one or two, not a whole canful. So, rather than waste one precious chili (and to save a lot of time in future recipes), I remove all the canned chipotles with a fork, leaving a thin layer of adobo on each (about three tablespoons of adobo will be left behind in the can). I pop them in a mini-food processor (or blender) and puree them (most recipes call for chipotles to be finely chopped or pureed). One chipotle covered with sauce makes about 1 1/2 teaspoons of puree.

I package canned chipotle puree in one-tablespoon mounds in small, zipper-style plastic bags and freeze them. They're ready when I need them. And if I need less than a tablespoon, I remove the frozen puree from the plastic and cut off the amount I need; the remainder goes back in the freezer.

Dried chipotles, which range from suede tan to coffee brown and have sharp ridges, are harder to find. Some Hispanic markets sell them, but the easiest way to get them is often through mail-order catalogs - such as Melissa's World Variety Produce at 800-588-0151 or Santa Fe Cooking School, 800-982-4688. To reconstitute them, remove the stems and place the chipotles in a saucepan with water to generously cover. Bring to a boil; remove from heat and allow to soak for 20-30 minutes or until pliable and tender; puree or finely chop.

Here are 10 ways to chew on chipotles. Remember, start with a small amount. Then taste and add more to suit your lust for sizzle and smoke.

* Chipotle, Corn and Shrimp Soup: a beat-the-clock soup that tastes like it took hours to prepare. In a large pot, combine 3 cups nonfat milk, 2 baking potatoes (peeled and diced), 1 teaspoon pureed chipotles and 2 (15-ounce) cans creamed corn. Simmer until potatoes are fork-tender, about 12-14 minutes. Add 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp and cook two minutes. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.

* Dips That Smoke:

Try adding a dab of pureed chipotles to guacamole. Perfectly ripened avocados already have a slight smoky flavor, so chipotles complement them nicely.

Or use a bit to add pizazz to a creamy, mayonnaise-enriched dip, such as warm crab dip. Combine 16 ounces canned crab (drained and picked over) with 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach (thawed and squeezed dry), 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan, 8 ounces room-temperature cream cheese, 1/3 cup mayonnaise, 1 to 2 teaspoons pureed chipotles and 1 lightly beaten egg.

Place in a 12-inch gratin dish or a shallow oven-proof casserole. Top with a mixture of 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and 1 teaspoon chili powder. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips or crackers.

(Adapted from "Layers of Flavors" by Ray Overton, Longstreet, 1998, $18.95)

* Powerful Pilaf: A spicy pilaf teams beautifully with grilled meat, poultry or beans. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1/2 medium onion (chopped) and 1 large garlic clove (minced); cook until onion is softened. Increase heat to medium-high.

Add 1/2 cup raw long-grain rice; stir to coat rice; cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is lightly browned. Add 1 cup chicken or vegetable broth and 1/2 teaspoon pureed chipotles; stir to combine and bring to boil. Cover and reduce heat to a low simmer; simmer 18 minutes. Remove lid; toss in 1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions.

* Smokin' Salsa: The tang of roasted tomatillos gives this salsa a delectable citrus edge. Start by placing 3 large cloves of unpeeled garlic in a heavy-bottomed skillet on medium heat. Toast until blackened in spots and garlic interior is soft, about 15 minutes, shaking handle of skillet occasionally to turn garlic. Cool and peel. Place 15 tomatillos in single layer on a jellyroll pan.

Broil 6 inches below broiler element until lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Turn tomatillos and broil 3 more minutes. Place garlic and 1 to 2 tablespoons pureed chipotles in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; process until garlic is pureed. Add 1/2 teaspoon sugar, tomatillos and their pan juices; pulse until roughly chopped. Add salt to taste.

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