Chili Seco is a confusing name as it is both specific and generic. Being a Jalapian puts us smack dab in the center of a number of like controversies; spelling and designation opinions abound. Is it Chili, Chilli, or Chile – What kind of chili is a chili seco chile? – Is the chilli a fruit or vegetable? – Is it Xalapa or Jalapa? I am going to try and sort out some of this.
How do you spell this all important pepper? The three primary spellings are chili, chile and chilli, all of which are recognized by dictionaries. Spelled as “Chile” got the most Google hits, but then that included the country. Around here it is most often spelled chili, but Anita thinks it is most often chile. Already confused? Read on.
Then there is the oft asked question, “What kind of chilies are chili seco peppers?” This is at least as confusing as the spellings. Many assume it is a chipotle pepper. The closest I can come to an authoritative answer is the chili seco peppers we buy here are a varietal of Veracruzan jalapeño chiles; thus falling under one of the confusing roster of names. It is not a chipotle pepper. The dried and smoked chipotle chilies appear smaller and drier. Chipotle chilies are available for sale at the same stores and mercados as the chili seco peppers, distinctly different. However, I have it on good authority both varietals origin is the jalapeño pepper.
Author, restaurateur and star chef Patricia Qunitana was quoted in an interview saying after being asked, “What defines the cooking of Veracruz?” She answers in part, “Veracruz is a very, very important region for our culture…dishes of the north are based on chiles: chile ancho, chile seco, chipotle meco, which are smoked like chipotles, but larger. Traditionally they’re dried on top of the stove, but now they have smokers…” Now we have it on good authority “chili seco” is not synonymous with chipotle chilies, but again they both do start off as jalapeño peppers.
Fruit or Vegetable?
Chili seco is a type of pepper which is considered a Capsicum.
Capsicum is a genus of plants from the nightshade family (Solanaceae).
The scientific definition of a fruit is any structure that develops from a fertilized ovary and contains seeds of the plant.
A vegetable is defined as “a plant cultivated for an edible part, such as the root of the beet, the leaf of spinach, or the flower buds of broccoli or cauliflower”
So, the answer is jalapeño is a fruit scientifically and a vegetable to the rest of the world. Like the tomato this issue remains on the table.
We’ll settle the Xalapa – Jalapa spelling controversy another time – oh sure.
So the chili seco pepper we will use in our sauce or salsa is a dried jalapeño pepper. That chili seco pepper is a fruit and we live in the Xalapa area (my spelling and I am sticking to it).
Before we start cooking lets clear the air on the dangers of preparing chili seco. If you have a mask left over from the recent swine flu outbreak get it. The acrid smoke from preparing chili seco sauce can be likened to being assaulted with pepper spray. I mean this smoke is tear jerking, air grasping overall gaspingly wicked stuff!
Don’t Let This Smoke Get in your Eyes.
We prepare our chili seco out of doors. Many here in the Hood make it in the cocina (kitchen) – this is essentially a death wish. Even out of doors the fumes can be over powering. I mentioned last time that in Merida it is illegal to prepare chili seco. I am going to assume here this is in a commercial sense.
I have a series of DVD’s from the PBS Rick Bayless cooking show “One Plate at a Time.” In the accompanying literature one review includes, “Burning of chiles for recado negro produces a smoke so acrid that nowadays the process is banned within Mérida city limits. In fact, for a full week after initial preparations for the Bayless visit, Chef David suffered from a persistent and nagging cough. The worst smoke comes from the small chile seco yucateco, which resembles the chile de arbol. The problem can be avoided almost completely by using chile ancho, which produces much less of the toxic smoke and also contributes a sweeter taste to the finished recado.”
I am here to attest to the toxicity of the activity of preparing chili seco even on a small scale. Burning eyes and gasping for breath will be part of the activity unless one is very, very cautious. Is it worth risking life and lungs to make this dark rich sauce? We will find out more about this and continue to the cooking lesson next. Stay Tuned!