So, you can buy chili powder at any supermarket and probably even a lot of corner shops. There are many such shops very near my flat. On the other hand, you can spend two days smoking, drying and powdering chilis in your own kitchen, then adding other smoked/dried/powdered ingredients until you have something a lot more interesting. It’s up to you…
I first got the idea for this project from Jillian at Whisky Drinkin’ Chimney Sweep, whose every blog post is frankly an inspiration to me. I made a much, much smaller batch than she did, but I did have my own take on proceedings – namely, starting with some fresh ingredients as well as ready dried ones. It’s hard to know where to begin telling the story of all the ingredients and the individual processes for each one, because there’s a lot to it. It’s kind of an epic tale, which requires being split into two parts.
I’ll begin with the chilis, given that they are the ingredients with the most work and they’re the star of the show. Don’t tell the rest of the ingredients, especially the ones that came out of a jar – they already have a bit of an inferiority complex. The fresh chilis that I started with were three each of long red chilis and short, fat green chilis – these might have been jalapenos, they were just labelled as ‘green chilis’. I’ll use jalapeno to describe them, unless anyone has any objections, and furthermore I’ll call them chipotles after smoking. A chipotle (if you’re not sure, you say it chi-pote-lay) is nothing more than a smoked jalapeno, after all.
I read up a bit on the best way to smoke your own chilis, and I found that hot smoking is tricky because if you apply too much heat to the peppers, the flesh will cook and get soft and mushy. The home smoker that I have sits on the stove top, and having an electric hob makes it really tricky to regulate the heat properly, so I was concerned about softening and ruining them. To try to compensate, I started by partly drying the chilis in a low, low oven. I sliced them open, removed the seeds from the green ones, and baked at just 50C for an hour and a half. The skins started to toughen and curl a little round the cut edges, while the flesh stayed firm. A good beginning.
I then fired up the smoker. For a bit more information about the smoker I have, see this post about smoked pheasant, this post about smoked garlic, this post about smoked chicken and ham terrine or this post about hot smoked salmon. I filled the tray with broken down pine cones, dried thyme and some chives which were so far past their best that they had forgotten what it was like, and could only remember the dark dankness of the salad drawer. I thought the soggy chives would help produce more smoke. I’m not really sure if I was right. I sprayed all this dry fodder with some Guinness, hoping to add more flavour to the smoke and, therefore, the chilis. The first photo shows the smoker box, and the second the result of half an hour of smoking time. Notice the change in colour of the green chilis.
When I checked them at half an hour, I was concerned about how soft the chilis were getting. I decided to take them out and fully dry them at this stage, sacrificing smokey flavour for the right texture. With the oven still at 50C, I dried all the chilis on a bed of thyme leaves, with occasional sprays of Guinness for added flavour, for about an hour and a half.
After this time I took out the red chilis, which were almost dry. While the smoker was on, I’d thrown in a clove of garlic to smoke – I thought I may as well make the most of it, if my flat was going to smell of barbecue for a week anyway… At the ninety minute mark, I removed the garlic and turned off the heat, then put the red chilis back in the smoker and closed the lid. They sat inside the smoker overnight, with no heat, to absorb what flavour they could.
As for the thicker jalapenos, I left them in the oven overnight, with the door propped open to allow more air to circulate. Yes, this meant leaving the oven on overnight. I would never recommend that anyone leave an oven unattended. I don’t always practise what I preach.
In the morning, this is what I found:
The one on the bottom left is dried. You cannot argue with that. It is dah-ried-ah. The other two were still a little too soft, so I took the decision to put them back in. I had a clever plan; I heated the oven to 200C, put the two not quite ready chipotles, plus the red chilis AND four bird eye chilis that were partly dried from hanging out in the fridge for a couple of weeks, inside on the thyme bed, sprayed with Guinness and left them for ten minutes before turning the oven off and wedging the door with the wooden spoon again. You will notice that while I was willing to have the oven on while I was asleep, I drew the line at leaving it on while I was out of the house.
When I came home, I found these:
Again, those green ones look absolutely cremated, but the truth is that they’ve just been blackened by the higher heat, they are still usable. Alright, a little over-dried, granted, but usable. I used my brand new electric spice grinder to turn all the chilis into powder, doing just one variety at a time so I could compare the colour, flavour and smell of the different chilis.
As I mentioned, I took the seeds out of the jalapenos before smoking and drying, but I left the long red chilis as they were (there were hardly any seeds in them anyway) and also retained the seeds in the bird eye chilis. Therefore, the bird eye chili powder was the hottest, with a sharp, searing flavour. The red chilis really benefitted from their overnight stay in the smoker, and the powder had a full, rich, smoky flavour with a little sweetness and a pleasant warmth more than a heat. The chipotle powder was the fruitiest, with a medium tingling heat and more aromatic flavour.
I will pause to allow you to scoff at my highfalutin’ descriptions of those flavours.
Now that we’ve done that, I think this is a good time to take a break from this tale of two-day chili powder. On Friday we will have the second installment, which will show the other six ingredients and give the recipe for the finished chili powder. It’s a doozy.