When it comes to dry chiles, the smaller it is, the bigger the kick. Sure anchos and guajillos have great depth of nutty flavor and make great everyday sauces, but you're not going to lift a bland bowl of soup into pore-cleansing sweaty heat by crushing one into it; you grab a fiery red Chiltepin, or a wrinkly Pequin. Obviously, the rules of Minervaland dictate that the smartest way to counteract the relentless 'dry' heat of the desert is to pop a candy-like hot chile.
Meet your new hot friends.
My personal favorite will always be Chiltepin (also known as Tepin), a hand harvested chile, hollow, round, and far smaller than a dime. This nearly weightless chile grows wild in the mountain regions of the US and Mexico border, and is often found centering Sonoran tables, often with a carved Ironwood Chiltepin grinder next to them. While there's lots of of folks who enjoy it crushed and sprinkled over vanilla ice cream, I prefer to keep it savory. Add one or two crushed chiles to to a bowl soup, or a spoonful to a basic salsa recipe to spice it up.
Next on the tiny chile list is Pequin (also known as Bird's Eye Chile), coming in at 40,000-60,000 on the Scoville scale, same as Chiltepin, with a citrus-tinged heat to match it's orangey red color. This chile is more oblong in shape than the Chiltepin, and with a more wrinkled surface, making it easy to distinguish between these two frequently mixed up chiles.
Remember that a lot of the heat and flavor of these two beautiful chiles is in the tiny seeds. Many larger dry chiles require the painstaking removal of the seeds and dried stems as their flavor can turn quite bitter and metallic. Not so with Chiltepin and Pequin. Their seeds and tiny stems are an essential part of their flavor. They are relatively expensive chiles, with a 1 oz package of Pequin coming in at $11.60, but their small size and near weightlessness means this ounce goes a long way.
While these two chiles are both more commonly used dried and are found in the spice and chile section of your local Mexican grocery store, it is also easy to find them in their fresh and pickled form in the condiment or sauce section.
Home Made Chiltepin or Pequin Hot Sauce
1 cup Chiltepin or Pequin peppers ½ of a small white onion 2 cloves garlic 1 teaspoon sea salt ¼ teaspoon Mexican oregano ¼ freshly ground black pepper ¼ cup distilled white or apple cider vinegar
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Place the chiles, garlic and onion in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking until the garlic and onions have softened. Proper ventilation during this process is highly recommended.
Drain the chiles, garlic and onions, and place in a blender jar, along with remaining ingredient, pureeing on high speed until very smooth. If a thinner sauce is desired, add more vinegar, or distilled water. Keep refrigerated.