Chili Powder

Chili Powder is one of the most underrated superstars of the spice shelf. Typically it is purchased dutifully when called for in a Mexican recipe and then left to languish for months before being used again. That's a shame because with a bit of effort not only can you make your personal version, you can also get more mileage out of other spices waiting their turn on the shelf.

Basically, chili powder is a pre-mixed assortment of pepper powders and a few other spices regularly used in conjunction with them. This gives you two big advantages when you make your own.

Number one being the flavor from freshly roasted chilies. Nothing you buy in a bottle will compare and you get to choose the chilies you think will be best.

Number two is helping you use up other spices nearing the end of their useful age. Since the spices still have the distinctive oils (although faded some) you can up the amount to get the target taste you need.

So you start by heading over to the Mexican supermarket and checking out those rows of roasted peppers. If you can find one that roasts them on site, that's even better. You are looking for a mix of four flavor types.
  • Fruity: ancho, mulatos, pasillas
  • Smoky: guajillo, ñoua, chipotle
  • Hot: pequín, árbol, cascabel
  • Sweet: costeño, choricero, New Mexico (Anaheim, California, Colorado peppers)
Now I know those say "hot" but we are not talking cayenne pepper hot here. In my mind, a good chili powder is all about flavor. If I need more heat in a given recipe I'll reach for the bottle of cayenne pepper powder.

As for what to look for, you want peppers that are bendable and are kind of leathery to the feel. If they are brittle they most likely have been sitting there too long and won't have much flavor.

You will also need the following spices:
  • Paprika
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Garlic Powder

Pre-heat the oven to 350º.

Take the peppers and cut off the stems with scissors. Cut the peppers lengthwise, open them and remove all the seeds and the membrane holding them to the peel.

Place the pepper peels flat on a sheet pan. Place them in the oven and toast them for between three and five minutes. They are ready when the skins darken and you can smell the pepper flavor. Burnt peppers will taste bitter.

Let peels cool for 10 minutes. At this point they will be brittle. Break them into smaller pieces and break them down into a powder using a blender or spice grinder.

In this version, I just used the leftover spices in my cabinet but it's just as easy to get the cumin and coriander seeds, toast them and break them down in the same process as the peppers. I like running the oregano through the spice grinder to get a uniform consistency.

Once you have the pepper powder and other spices ready you are set to mix them together. Here are the proportions I used in my most recent batch:

30 g guajillo peppers
20 g ancho peppers
20 g arbol peppers
10 g sweet paprika
8 g cumin
5 g coriander
5 g garlic powder
5 g oregano

This will make roughly enough to fill two spice bottles. I will top these off using the additional pepper powder I have on hand. Expect it to last about six months or so.