You know that smell, that smell that fills the house the first time you light a wood fire in the fireplace for the season? Maybe the wood isn’t quite dry. Maybe the damper wasn’t quite open all the way. Maybe it’s not quite cold enough to get a good draft going. That smokey wood smell that makes you think, ahh, fall is here. I can finally wear my flannel shirts and boots. Put on that old jacket to gather wood and rake leaves. That is what my house smelled like the day, and for days after, I dried the smoked peppers for chipotle powder and chipotles in adobo sauce and enchilada sauce. Although I have a fireplace, mine and everyone’s I know, is gas so I haven’t enjoyed that smell in a house in years. Here in Arizona wood piles get a bit sketchy because you don’t know what decided to move into it since you stacked the wood and, at least for me, sticking my hand somewhere I can’t see what I would grab is a non-starter.
You remember the chilies I smoked a few weeks ago? Most of those have been dried in my oven. Luckily my oven has convection bake and convection roast settings and the temperature will go down to 100 degrees. I had the oven manual out to see what it said about drying food so I looked up the difference between convection bake and convection roast. I don’t think there is a difference on my oven so I don’t know why I have both. Anyway, I used all three shelves (the first time ever for my oven) and lined them with peppers. I set the oven on convection roast, because it sounds better than convection bake, at 125 degrees, and let it go. As the peppers dried the smokey smell permeated my house and gave me my first sense of fall. It did it again the next time I used the oven, quickly followed by that smokey burning smell. Unbeknownst to me, one of the peppers had dropped down in the oven below the oven floor, right next to the gas flame, and started on fire. Luckily it was only one pepper and when the oven cooled down I could get it out.
After about 11 hours I checked the peppers to see if they were even close. The Anaheim peppers, which I had halved to smoke, were close and many were dried enough to take out of the oven. The jalapeno peppers on the other hand looked like they did when I started. I realized I was going to cut at least the stems off eventually so why not do that now to open the insides to allow moisture to escape. So, I took all the jalapeno peppers out, cut the stems off, butterflied them and cut the seeds out. I wish I had done all this at the beginning because they were very moist inside and a few hours later they finally seemed to be drying. When I went to bed I turned to oven off and kept the peppers inside. I turned the oven back on when I woke up (one of the perks of working from home most days) and let them continue their journey to dryness. I repeated this for three days. Nice fresh peppers look a whole lot better than shriveled dry ones, but I know what can be done with dry peppers so I’ll visualize the taste and not the appearance.
After about 36-40 hours of drying, the jalapeno peppers were dry enough for my purposes; the Anaheim peppers only took about 15 hours. I counted out the number of chipotles I need for chipotles in adobo (about 30) and decided to grind the rest along with the smoked and dried habanero peppers for a spicy hot powder mix. Not being a complete glutton for punishment or of the notion it has to be done the way it was 75 years ago, I got out my blender. I had already been warned about how caustic grinding horseradish can be in a food processor, so, keeping that in mind and thinking there likely isn’t much difference between finely ground horseradish and finely ground chipotles and dried habanero peppers, I took the show outside and closed my windows. After putting the peppers in the blender I closed the lid and pressed Start. Eventually the peppers were ground into a fine powder that will be a perfect addition to anything needing a bit of spice and smokey flavor. I think a little of it will be used as a light dusting on top of homemade chewy caramels dipped in dark chocolate.
I still have to make the chipotles in adobo and enchilada sauce, but those can wait for another day.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!