Serious Eats

Why Toasting Dried Chiles Matters

"Just a few seconds of toasting strongly infused even more chile flavor into a dish."

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[Flickr: Fotoosvanrobin]

I often take the easy route. Case in point: not toasting my dried chiles before plopping them into a dish. Especially when there are so many other steps to a recipe, does a little toasting really make a difference in an overall dish? I was curious to find out.

It was Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen that convinced me to stop being lazy and toast the dried chiles, which notes: "Toasting adds complexity, a hint of char and a bit of smokiness, all elements that balance a chile's natural astringency."

How To Do It

For smaller chiles: Bayless advices toasting them whole on griddles or sauté pans over medium heat, and turning until the chiles are fragrant with brown spots. Do not over-toast.

For large chiles: such as Anaheims, stem and seed the chiles, tear into pieces and then press them against the bottom of the sauté pan with a spatula or tongs. The whole process takes sheer seconds. (Bayless also says the chiles can also be toasted by frying in oil, which I didn't try.)

The Taste-Test

But I wanted to know if it's worth the effort, so I conducted a taste test. I toasted the chiles, then covered them with boiling water to soften. Then, I compared them with non-toasted chiles also submerged in water. The results were remarkable—just a few seconds of toasting resulted in a chile taste that was richer, deeper and more pronounced than its uncharred counterpart.

Then, I used an immersion blender to separately purée both toasted chiles and untoasted chiles with chicken broth. (This is probably the most common way I used dried chiles: puréeing them into a stew or soup base.) Interestingly, not only was the taste of the soup with the toasted chiles better, but the toasted dried chiles were easier and quicker to purée with my immersion blender.

The Verdict

Yes, yes, yes, toast those dried chiles! Just a few seconds of toasting strongly infused even more chile flavor into a dish. And, as an added plus, in my experience it made the dried chiles more pliable and easier to work with. It's not going to add a dramatic difference to the end result of your dish, but if you have the extra seconds to do it, you should.

Do you toast your dried chiles?

About the author: Andrea Lynn is senior editor for Chile Pepper magazine, where she not only creates a wide range of zesty recipes for readers, but also participates in numerous tastings for hot sauce, salsa, and other spice-laden products (even chocolate!). Her favorite chile? A tie between the mild yet flavorful poblano and the mighty, reliable fire of the serrano.

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