How to Prepare Dried Chilies

An introduction to preparing dried chilies where will go over the basic preparation and usage methods that the dried variations have, share a few interesting facts about chilies, and the mark they have left on the world, before introducing a few of the more common varieties and their flavor profiles!

Home >
Articles >
How to Prepare Dried Chilies

An Introduction To Dried Chilies

When you're on a journey to get under the (poblano) skin of Mexican food, you could do much worse than to start by trying to grasp the wonderfully varied use of chilies (or chilies) that exists in Mexican cooking. There exist many types and for each many local variations. Contrary to popular belief, chilies offer so much more than heat and by mixing and matching the milder, more fruity variants you can add tons of flavor to dishes without too much fire! Of course, there are also chili types for those who love that fire.

To understand everything about chilies would take an uncountable amount of hours. Between joyously browsing food markets, exploring the endless variations and types of chilies available, and learning their regional preparation methods from kind and knowledgeable locals, time will simply fly by. Even if it does sound a whole lot like a food lover's paradise, it's hardly doable for many, so instead, we'll try to recreate a tiny fraction of the experience online – ta-dah! We'll stick with the dried varieties of Mexican chilies now, leaving for another time the world of fresh jalapenos, serranos, and habaneros.

We will go over the basic preparation and usage methods that the dried variations share, share a few interesting facts about chilies and the mark they have left on the world, before introducing a few of the more common varieties and their flavor profiles!

Let's get this fire started!


First and foremost, here is where we recommend getting a pair of latex gloves unless you are a very hardened handler of hot stuff. Even when dried, chilies will leave their mark on your skin when handled, adding a slight fiery sensation that will last for some hours – and if you're incautious you might itch your eyes or any other sensitive part of the body, which will no doubt be painful (we are speaking from experience here).

Gloves on, you are ready to remove the stem either with a pair of scissors or a knife. Our goal is to get rid of the seeds and the inner membrane, leaving a nice even surface.

So when you have removed the stem, butterfly the chili by cutting it open lengthwise, run your fingers on the inside removing the seeds and as much of the inner membrane as possible. The seeds of the dried variants add more bitterness than heat, which is why they are often removed before using. The inner membrane holds a lot of the heat in the fruit, so if you're going for a milder flavor, be sure to take away as much as you can. Now you should be left with a butterflied chili, with its delectable flesh fully exposed.

Removing seeds from inner membrane of dried chili


For the time-sensitive or lazy among us, skipping the toasting step is a possibility. It will, however, leave you with a subpar flavor. To save a few minutes, you're essentially sabotaging your own final work.

Anyone well versed in the art of using whole toasted seeds or dried berries – as in an Indian curry for example – will be familiar with the general idea here: you toast the unground spices so that their flavors are reinvigorated. With Mexican chilies, the idea is to toast them quickly, without over-toasting them (as this will significantly detract from the final flavor). If done right, this step will add a bunch of complexity to their flavor and even a few hints of charred smokiness.

For larger batches, heat for 5-10 minutes in an oven set to 165 °C (325 °F) instead of using the stovetop.

Using a very hot pan or griddle (or a comal if you have one at home), place the prepared chilies, a few at a time, on the hot surface. You want to create a bit of that prickly feeling in the nose, aromas rising in the air and small bubbles appearing on the surface. The flesh of the chilies should have a little bit of visible browning, but by no means should they become black. Doing this in batches makes it much easier to avoid burning, and still takes only a short time to do.


This step is also not strictly necessary – you can grind the dried toasted chilies into a nice powder if that's your thing – but to use your chilies in Mexican cooking you will want to complete this step as well. After toasting the chilies, put them in a container and cover them with hot water – slightly below boiling will do great in an open container.

Leave them for 20-30 minutes, uncovered, to allow them a chance to restore their pre-dried glory.

When the chilies are re-hydrated, they are perfect for blending with charred tomatoes and garlic for classic Mexican salsas or with braising liquid to create flavourful sauces.