DRIED ARBOL CHILE PEPPER
The Arbol Chile Pepper is green when young then ripens to a vibrant red hue when mature, a color that the pepper will maintain even when dried. Shaped similar to a Cayenne chile, but smaller, this chile grows on a large plant that forms a multi-branching treelike shape.
Considered to be a hot chile, this two to three-inch chile’s heat offers a distinctive robust flavor with medium-hot pungency ranging between 15,000 and 30,000 Scoville units. Thin-fleshed, the Arbol chile has a smoky, tannic, grassy flavor with a lively acidic, penetrating heat, a flavor that becomes more pronounced once this chile pepper is dried or toasted.
Pronounced “day ar boll”, De Arbol chiles are also known as de Arbol peppers, “Pico de Pajaro” (bird beak) or “cola de rata” (rat tail). The De Arbol chile is believed to be native to Mexico while some serious chile heads believe that it is related to the cayenne chile while others believe it is closely related to the Pequin chile. A member of the chile species Capsicum annuum, De Arbol means “tree-like” in Spanish and was named that because of its instantly recognizable long woody stem.
De Arbol chiles are narrow, curved and a bit pointed at the tip, they’re less than ½” wide and between 2” and 3” long with a thin flesh. While growing they are green and mature to bright red at which point they are harvested.
While not as popular as some of the other Mexican chiles the De Arbol chile is rarely found fresh and is considered a hot chile that comes in at 15,000 – 30,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units). De Arbol chile peppers are a favorite in Mexican cuisine because of their bold heat and subtle smoky taste. Unlike many chiles, these remain bright red even after they’re dried.
De Arbol have a natural, grassy flavor with a hint of nuttiness and they have a searing, acidic heat. The dried De Arbol has a more distinctive taste than the fresh pepper as the drying process really enhances their flavor. The flavor of De Arbol chile is considered superior to other chile peppers by many competition chili cooks and is considered a staple in many southwestern US kitchens. We like to use it in place of cayenne as the heat levels are similar but the cayenne really provides no additional flavor just heat.
In its pod form the De Arbol chile pepper is often used to flavor oils and vinegar and as a powder, the De Arbol chile pepper is perfect in any dish where you want to increase its heat level. Grind at home in small batches and use in chili, hot sauce, salsas, soups, tacos, and stir-fry.
We like to dry toast them in a hot skillet and then toss in the blender with tomatillos, onion, roasted garlic and a little water for a flavorful quick table salsa.
De Arbol Chile can be utilized in any dish where a noticeable flavor and heat are desired. Traditionally used as a staple in Southwestern cuisines, you may also add this chile to Mexican dishes, chili, or salsa for a unique kick.
You can use Japones, Pequin and Tepin chiles as substitutes for any recipe calling for De Arbol chiles.
Smoky Arbol Chile Pepper Salsa Recipe
This is not your usual salsa. This Smoky Arbol chile pepper salsa, also known as Guajillo Salsa, is a rusty red, very spicy, and perfect for drizzling over tacos, eggs, or anything cooked on your grill. Try serving this delicious and unusual Arbol Chile Pepper salsa with pork tenderloin rubbed with salt, pepper, and chili powder (such as Chipotle, Ancho, Pasilla, etc.), and then grilled.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
16 (1/4 ounce total) dried arbol chile peppers, stemmed or 2 (1/2 ounce total) dried guajillo chiles*
3 whole garlic cloves, peeled (can use more if desired)
4 medium (about 8 ounces) tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut in half
1/4 cup water
Juice from 1 fresh lime
*Chiles de Arbol or arbol chile (ARE-bowl) are narrow, curved chiles that start out green and mature to a 3-inch to a 5-inch bright red pod. The arbol chile is very hot and related to cayenne pepper. These chiles register around 50,000-65,000 on the Scoville heat unit scale (or about 7-8 on a 1-10 scale).
Warning: Put on a pair of latex gloves before beginning this recipe. Always wear gloves when working with hot chile peppers (fresh, dried or roasted chiles). Never touch your eyes when working with chiles. Please don’t learn this lesson the hard way!
Roll the arbol chiles between your fingers to loosen the seeds, then break the chiles in half and shake out as many seeds as will come out easily. If using guajillo chile peppers, tear them open and sweep out the seeds with your fingers.
Measure the vegetable oil into a large (10-inch) skillet and set over medium heat. Lay all the prepared chile peppers in the hot oil. Cook and turn constantly until the chiles are aromatic and have changed color slightly, about 30 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the chile peppers into a blender jar, leaving behind as much of the oil as possible; set aside.
Wipe out the oil from your skillet (no need to wash it), and set the skillet back over medium heat. Place the garlic cloves and tomatillos (cut side down) in the pan. When the tomatillos are browned, turned everything over and brown the other side.
Remove from the heat and place the tomatillos/garlic mixture into the blender jar with the chile peppers. Add the 1/4 cup water and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste. Blend until nearly smooth.
Pour salsa into a bowl and let cool before serving (best if made 1 day ahead).
Makes 1 cup salsa.