Chile peppers are one of the most influential ingredients in authentic, Mexican cooking. More than 3,000 varieties of peppers, ranging from jalapeños and poblanos, to hot habañeros and serranos, originated in Mexico and parts of South America. When discovered by voyagers in the 15th century, the spicy ingredient was brought to Spain and thought to have medicinal properties.
Depending on your tolerance for heat, it can be a dangerous job trying to determine the right pepper for your recipes. Each type of pepper is measured for spice and heat through the amount of capsaicin the variety holds and is then assigned a designation using the Scoville scale (named after the scientist who created it).
When adding peppers to your dish consider ways to pair the level of heat with the body of your beer. More full-bodied or malty beers, like Negra Modelo, are great to stand up to the extreme spice of habañeros. While Corona Extra and Modelo Especial will make a great match with a variety of peppers with a lower Scoville rating, such as jalapeños and poblanos.
Consider the following peppers (and their Scoville heat designations), when pairing and creating your next Mexican dish:
Jalapeño: the most common of the Mexican peppers, jalapeños get their heat from their seeds, because their flesh is mild in taste. To eliminate the heat, simply remove the seeds before adding the pepper to your dish. In addition, there are a variety of ways to enjoy Jalapeños, including pickling them for additions to burgers, nachos and tacos and smoking to add to sauces. Dry, smoked, red jalapeños are commonly referred to as chipotle peppers. Canned chipotles in adobo sauce can be a nice warm, sweet and heat building layer to sauces. Scoville Rating: 3,000–6,000 SHU
Habañero: typically bright orange or red, these heart-shaped peppers are extremely spicy and should be used sparingly in recipes. Since the capsaicin in habañeros is so strong, make sure to use rubber gloves when cutting the peppers. It may also be wise to cut out the seeds within the pepper to help tame the heat for your salsa or hot sauce recipes. Scoville Rating: 300,000 SHU
Serrano: these peppers are commonly seen in the produce department as either red or green. The serrano pepper adds a touch more heat than a jalapeño might, but also has a bright, fresh flavor. These peppers can be enjoyed raw, but they are also delicious when sautéed, as they give off fantastic flavor and, surprisingly, tame the heat. Scoville Rating: 6,000 – 23,000 SHU
Guajillo: these moderately hot peppers are usually found in the grocery store already dried. They have a thick skin and require soaking in water before use in pureed salsas, sauces and marinades. Try toasting them before soaking to enhance their essence. Scoville Rating: 2,500 – 5,000 SHU
Poblano: also known as pasilla peppers, poblanos are fairly mild in flavor and, when roasted, add a smokey, sweet flavor to your dish. When this pepper is dried it is commonly known as ancho chile. For mole, a popular sweet Mexican sauce, use poblanos as the main ingredient. Scoville Rating: 1,000 – 2,000 SHU
For a simple recipe that highlights Mexican peppers, try these Chile Toreados. The term ‘toreados’ comes from the action of sautéing peppers until they brown and blister on all sides. Enjoy these with your favorite grilled item, or in any taco. Pair the Chile Toreados with a full-bodied beer, like Negra Modelo, to tame the heat.