Preparation / Directions:
Americans who love the smoky taste and fiery bite of chipotles have recently been hit with high prices and a scarcity of product. With prices for these smoked jalapenos reaching $15 a pound wholesale, home growers yearn to smoke their own. But the Mexicans have been fairly secretive about their techniques, and none of the books on chiles describe home smoking. After a trip to Delicos Mexico, I think I have solved this mystery -- but the process takes some dedication. First, let's look at how the Mexicans do it.
They use a large pit with a rack to smoke-dry the jalapenos. The pit containing the source of heat is underground, with a tunnel leading to the rack. The pods are placed on top of the rack where drafts of air pull the smoke up and over the pods. The jalapenos can be whole pods or pods without seeds. The latter are more expensive and are called "capones", or castrated ones.
It is possible to make chipotle in the back yard with a meat smoker or Weber-type grill with a lid. The grill should be washed to remove any meat particles because any odor in the grill will give the chile an undesirable flavor. Ideally, the smoker or grill should be new and dedicated only to smoking chiles.
The quality of homemade chipotle will depend on the maturity and quality of the pods, the moisture in the pods, the temperature of the smoke drying the pods, and the amount of time the peppers are exposed to the smoke and heat. The aroma of wood smoke will flavor the jalapenos, so carefully choose what is burned. Branches from fruit trees, or other hardwoods such as hickory, oak, and pecan, work superbly. Pecan is used extensively in parts of Mexico and in southern New Mexico to flavor chipotle. Do not be afraid to experiment with different woods.
The difference between the fresh weight of the fruits and the finished product is about ten to one, so it takes ten pounds of fresh jalapenos to produce approximately one pound of chipotles. A pound of chipotles goes a long way, as a single pod is usually enough to flavor a dish.
First, wash all the pods and discard any that have insect damage, bruises, or are soft. Remove the stems from the pods before placing the peppers in a single layer on the grill rack. Start two small fires on each side of the grill with charcoal briquettes. Keep the fires small and never directly expose the pods to the fire so they won't dry unevenly or burn. The intention is to dry the pods slowly while flavoring them with smoke. Soak the wood in water before placing it on the coals so the wood will burn slower and create more smoke. The grill vents should be opened only partially to allow a small amount of air to enter the grill, thus preventing the fires from burning too fast and creating too much heat.
Check the pods and the fires hourly and move the pods around, always keeping them away from the fires. It may take up to forty-eight hours to dry the pods completely. The pods will be hard, light in weight, and brown in color when dried. If necessary, let the fires burn through the night. After the pods have dried, remove them from the grill and let them cool. To preserve their flavor, place them in a zip-lock bag. It is best to store them in a cool and dry location. If humidity is kept out of the bags, the chipotles will last for twelve to twenty-four month