In previous posts, I talked about a few Mexican hot peppers (chiles) that I had purchased in Toronto, Ontario, and shared recipes using them, such as salsa macha and salsa endiablada. I also briefly mentioned a Canadian company called Épices de cru based in Montréal, Québec that I wanted to check out. Over a year later, I finally found the time to browse through their on-line catalogue, and boy, was I ever astonished by the variety of their products, ranging from teas, cocoa beans and herbs, to vanilla, salt, and all kinds of spices, and there was no disappointment either, when I saw their offerings of dried whole and ground chiles, from all over the world. Neatly listed in alphabetical order, from South American ají, and Aleppo peppers from the Middle East, to Hungarian sweet paprika, Tsilanidimilahy – described as “a fruity and extremely hot chili with a name that roughly translated to ‘not even five men can handle it’!” – from Madagascar, and whole smoked pimentón from Spain. In between, Korean gochugaru, Moroccan and Sichuan sweet and spicy peppers may be found, as well as, of course, a vast selection of Mexican chile varieties. In the end, I decided to concentrate in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, and ordered five chiles that they source directly from there. They arrived in just a couple of days, nicely packed in a box, with all the peppers inside paper bags, stamped and prepared by hand, as seen in the photo at the top of the post; they even included a sample of one of their spice blends. As I opened each bag, the scents, shapes and colours of these peppers offered one amazing experience after another! Preserving the alphabetical order, my box included:
1) Chile Chilcosle (also known as chilcostle, or chilcoxtle):
This is an ancient variety, but has remained pretty much only known within the state of Oaxaca. It provides a distinctive yellow-orange colour when added to sauces and stews. Épices de cru says: “Chicosle chilies are becoming extremely rare because cultivating them is very costly. We continue to work in tandem with the best Oaxacan producers to ensure that this rare chile – alongside other ancient varieties – will regain a certain popularity, that will hopefully guarantee their continued cultivation.” The aroma is very rich, and the heat scale is 7/10, so I am sure a little of this pepper will go a long way in my recipes.
2) Chilhuacle Amarillo:
Amarillo means “yellow”, and the colour of these peppers is indeed a light orange, yellowish shade. It is so distinctive in Oaxaca, that their use in one of their traditional sauces has given the dish its name of “mole amarillo.” It is also a rare variety, and there are only 4 pieces in the 25g (0.8 oz.) bag, so I know the destiny of these precious gems will be in a nice batch of mole amarillo, or as they call it in Oaxaca, simply “amarillo.”
3) Costeño Amarillo:
Costeño means “from the coast”, so this is a very generic term that refers to several peppers from both the East and the West coastal regions of Mexico; most of them are red, from states such as Veracruz (Gulf of Mexico, East coast) and Oaxaca itself (Pacific West coast), but the yellow variety are unique to Oaxaca. These are the prettiest of my lot, very smooth and truly yellow in colour. The scent seems milder, probably will blend well in a sauce.
I have mentioned these peppers before, as one of the traditional ingredients in mole poblano, the best-known red mole, in Mexico and internationally. Mulato is a variety of poblano pepper with a fruity flavour, that is left to ripen and dry on the plant. The heat scale on the bag says 2/10, but the company states that, just like with other poblano peppers, individual specimens may go from ” … mild to moderately hot. A kind of ‘Mexican roulette’ where one takes one’s chances with this delicious chile.”
5) Pasilla de Oaxaca extra grande (smoked):
I have been able to find pasilla peppers at international markets around my region, but Oaxacan pasillas are a different product altogether; they have a deeper flavour, are fruity, and all this is accentuated even more by the smoking process. I could not think of more compelling words than what Épices de cru has to say about them: “Being able to offer this most amazing chile is a great source of pride for us. Ripened and left to partially dry on the plant, the chiles are then further dried and lightly smoked in a traditional adobe (‘oven.’) In December, they are transported down the mountain by horseback to the nearest road to begin their long journey to the markets of Oaxaca, Puebla and finally Montréal.” and they continue explaining that these peppers are grown by local Mixtec farmers, in the high Sierra Mije and, since they are “extra grande” – extra large, they are often rehydrated, seeded and stuffed with cheese … yummy, sounds like a plan to me!
I will be busy cooking with my Oaxacan chiles, and reporting back soon, stay tuned!
A little about Épices de Cru – Before opening a spice shop in the boutique-store wing of Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market, in December of 2004, Ethné and Philippe de Vienne had worked for many years in their catering business; during that time, they would travel around the world a few weeks each summer, to gather knowledge about ingredients and cooking traditions, first-hand from producers and local peoples, securing the best ingredients for their recipes. The spice shop proved to be a very successful enterprise, becoming a full-time job, and they continue their mission to this day, true to their original vision. Their address is 7070 Henri-Julien, C-6, Montréal, H2S 2W1, Canada; phone number 1(514)273-1118; their website is great and they ship to Canada and the US. From their website: “Seeking the world’s best teas, spices and blends … made with respect to both the traditions of producers and the needs of our customers … We are in awe of people who respect their food traditions – they are the caretakers of the world’s flavours … We know that if people shared good tea and tasty food we could all have world peace for dessert … “