First, there was Sriracha. It was hard to find a food the smoky, spicy chili sauce didn’t improve. (Well, maybe some foods.)
Our love affair with chiles in any form—dried and crushed, ground into a paste, fresh and thinly sliced in a bowl of salsa—is far from fading, and Hillary’s recent endorsement of hot peppers’ health benefits is only fanning the flames. It’s all we can do to keep up.
This Hot List should help you stay on top of the chile game. Whether they’re the backbone of your new favorite condiment, an ancient pepper little known outside its growing region, or a spice blend you’ll want to use in everything, here are seven chiles to keep on your radar and how to use each one of them. So if you’re asking yourself if you really need both Aleppo and Selim peppers, read on.
1. Piment d’Espelette
What it is: This spice blend is made of chiles from the Basque regions of Spain and France and is named after the French village of Espelette. The Espelette peppers allegedly reached France via a Basque sailor who brought them back after sailing with Christopher Columbus on his second journey to the Americas.
Why you should know it: Flavorful but not crazy hot, Piment d’Espelette can be used as a gentler Cayenne or a bolder paprika. The spice blend has a fan in our co-founder Amanda Hesser; she uses it in everything from flank steak to brussels sprouts to cookies.
2. Aleppo Pepper
What it is: Sold dried and crushed, Aleppo pepper is a kicked-up version of your standard red chile flakes.
Why you should know it: Described by National Geographic as “cherry-red, mellow and medium-hot, lightly salty and oily with a whiff of wine and smoke,” it’s easy to see why you might make this your new go-to. It works well anywhere you’d like some heat: in yogurt sauces, roasted vegetables, meatballs, even a snack mix. The chile hails from Aleppo, Syria, but current conditions mean the stuff we’re now getting is likely from Turkey.
3. Morita Chile
What it is: This Mexican chile is actually a smoked jalapeño. They’re made from red jalapeños, which are left to ripen on the vine longer than the more common green variety.
Why you should know it: In her book, Eat Mexico, Lesley Téllez describes the morita chile as the perfect table salsa ingredient. With a “smoky flavor” and “slightly fruity undertones,” she uses it in said salsas (she includes recipes for both a traditional and a creamy version), and in her mixiotes, or steamed packets of chicken and vegetables.
4. Selim Pepper
What it is: This West African pepper is deemed “essential” in Pierre Thiam’s book (and 2016 Piglet contender!), Senegal.
Why you should know it: Spicy, aromatic, and bitter with notes of nutmeg, selim peppers are the foundation of the quintessential Senegalese coffee drink, café Touba. The peppers are often smoked, intensifying what Thiam describes as their “deep musk.” In addition to beverages, their intensity stands up well to bold and gamy meats and stews.
5. Chile de Árbol
What it is: Like Aleppo pepper, chile de árbol can will give your basic red pepper flakes a run for their money. But árbol chiles are often sold fresh, increasing their cooking possibilities.
Why you should know it: There is barely a dish in Suzanne Goin’s book, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, that doesn’t call for this chile. A typical recipe will start with one or two fresh chiles, sautéed with aromatics. This serves as the base for her Genius pork burgers, her (other) Genius corned beef, and her braised kale. She apparently picked up the árbol chile tip from Mexican cooks in her kitchen. Of her favorite pepper, she said:
”It gives another flavor. You taste it but you don’t know that that’s what you’re tasting.”
6. Guajillo Chile
What it is: The guajillo chile hails from Mexico, but is commonly found in North African harissa—a cultural exchange we’re very pleased about.
Why you should know it: Smoky and spicy, guajillos are the perfect complement to harissa’s other complex flavors (cumin, coriander, caraway, and garlic, to name a few). The Venice, California restaurant Gjelina uses them in traditional and green harissas—as well as in marinades, sauces, and kimchi.
7. Aji Amarillo
What it is: The most common chile in Peru, aji amarillo peppers are members of the capsicum baccatum chile family, one of the lesser known of the five families.
Why you should know it: “If there were a chile to taste like sunshine, this would be it,” says Serious Eats. The orange, thick-skinned pepper is hot but distinctly fruity. Available dried, canned, or in paste form (probably the easiest to find), aji amarillos lend some sunshine to sauces, ceviche, soups, and stews.
Stock your pantry:
Do you have any hot chile tips? Tell us about them in the comments!