Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Homemade Smoky Chipotle and Smoky Habanero Powder

Now, I like a little zing when I'm smoking foods (or in my gravy; for non-Italians, that's spaghetti sauce). However, I believe the key to a good zing is when the concoction starts out a little sweet and is then followed with a little burn. Not enough of a burn that sends you screaming through the house looking for some milk, but enough of a zing to make you go, "Ahhhhhhhhhh."

In my quest for some zing, I knew what I wanted and figured I could do it myself. With some help from a friend (Greg), I set off on my quest to make my own smoky chipotle and habanero powders.

The local grocery store was having a sale on peppers, so I stocked up on some. I picked up some jalapenos, habaneros, yellow hungarians and poblanos. It's a pretty cool color show and the heat ain't too bad either.

The first thing I wanted to do was to take the stem and heads off of the jalapenos and habaneros and then slice them in half. I left the poblanos and hungarian wax peppers intact as I was only going to hit with some smoke and then dry just a bit. I then would mince them up and store in vacuum sealed bags in sizes that would be perfect additions for chili and other dishes.

Now that they're in the smoker, it's just a matter of what type wood to use. The Bradley (I'll do another post on this type of smoker) actually uses bisquettes that are pretty much compressed wood chips with many different types of wood for smoking. In this instance, I used a combination of hickory and oak, as I wanted a strong, smokey flavor with the powder. I did not use any heat within the tower except for the heat provided by the smoke generator. It got to about 95F in the smoker. I put on 3 hours of smoke.

After 3 hours of smoke, I put them into the oven at 170F. This is the lowest my oven will go, so from time to time, I simply opened up the door to let the heat escape. Now, this is the part that lends itself to a little advice. Do not do this in the house! The fumes from the peppers, which is really capsaicin will take over your house and your eyes will get extremely red and watery and you will find it extremely hard to breathe. I suppose if I had ever been in an immediate threat of being attacked by a grizzly, this would have come in handy. Fortunately, for me, I was the only one in the house at the time. However, I did suffer flashbacks from my basic training days of going into the Disco Hut. The Disco Hut was the room where they threw tear gas into a bunch of hot lava rocks while you were inside with your gas masks on. That didn't bother me at all. It really bothered me when they ripped my mask off and made me answer questions while I was gulping this stuff in. But, it was also a fun time. I was platoon leader, so I went first. After getting out of there, I waited outside for the rest of my platoon to depart the Disco Hut (they also played loud, blaring music with strobe lights in there. I wasn't sure what they were hoping to glean from that but I did get the feeling that being a POW would subject me to hours and hours of endless Donna Summer music, which should have been against the Geneva Convention, in my opinion). The funnest part about that day was that someone in their infinite wisdom had planted a tree many years ago right outside the exit door. This was a huge tree and when you've got tears in your eyes and snot running out of every other orifice, it's hard to see that tree. Many didn't, which is what made the day fun for me. So, long story short, either do these in a dehydrator outside or in the garage. It could lead to a divorce if you do these in the house and the spouse gets wind of it.

After a while, your peppers will start to shrivel pretty good and then it's just a matter of testing them. I pulled them out every hour once they got to the point where I thought they were getting close to being done. I would feel them and see if they felt soft and try to bend them. If they had any give in them, I put them back in the oven. If they were hard and no flex to them, I pulled them out. The habaneros got done much quicker than the jalapenos because the skin of the habaneros is much thinner than jalapenos. With 3 hours in the smoker and 3 hours in the oven, they were all done. It took 3 hours in the smoker and 7 hours in the oven for all of the jalapenos to finish up. In addition, I pulled the pablanos and hungarian wax peppers after 3 hours in the smoker and 2 hours in the oven.

I then threw the pablanos and hungarian wax peppers into the freezer for about 1 hour so that I could dice them up and save as much liquid as possible. After dicing them up, I put about 2 T of each into their own vacuum sealed bag and threw them into the freezer for use in later dishes. I let the jalapenos and habaneros rest for two days in a container (with no lid) to ensure they were completely dry. After that, they simply went into the burr grinder (do this outside as well and try to stay upwind when doing it) to make the chipotle and habanero powder.

After all was said and done, I got about 3 oz of each powder (which is plenty for use; most times I never use more than 1/4 t of the habanero and 1/2 t of the chipotle).
A very important life lesson was learned. Either use gloves while handling or be very sure to wash hands thoroughly (and I do mean thoroughly). It goes without saying that washing hands after using the restroom is an absolute must. However, when working with peppers, it is an absolute must to wash hands prior to using the restroom. And when you think you've scrubbed them good enough, scrub them again. Otherwise, you'll end up like me and you'll be doing some type of crazy Bjork dance while your Nether-regions are on fire. You don't want to learn this lesson the hard way.
This powder is excellent. I just finished a brand new BBQ rub that I have been working on for a while and the habanero powder was perfect for the finishing touch. It provided the exact amount of punch that I was looking for and it also works real well when making gravy for adults.


  1. Be sure to wear gloves when handling the really hot stuff if there's any chance that you and the spouse will be having... um, dessert later on. I learned that years ago after I had spent the better part of a day working with some serranos and jap peppers without gloves-- with disastrous results later that night! My poor wife wouldn't let me anywhere near her for a good 2 weeks.

    Just a word to the wise.

  2. For a real treat, find red jalapeños near the end of summer. Rig your Bradley up for cold-smoking with the vent wide open, prep the peppers exactly as you did the green jalapeños above, then cold-smoke them with pecan wood for 12-36 hours. I've done both extremes; I think 16 hours is about right, and anything beyond that fails to add any extra smoke flavor, so why waste the bisquettes?

    Finish them outside (as you found out the hard way) in a food dehydrator set to 130F, then proceed as you did before to get to powder. Incredible flavor. I know chipotle meco is supposed to be better than chipotle morita, but I think that is because a lot of the morita that we get in the US is crap that Mexicans don't want. When you make your own, it is heavenly.

    FWIW, the centuries-old production of chipotle in Mexico uses pecan. Fruit hardwoods also work well. I find oak and hickory too heavy and, well, sounds snobby but inauthentic. The flavor just isn't right. And whatever you do don't EVER use mesquite. The resins in mesquite do terrible terrible things to chipotles.