Peter Piper Picks a Pepper

I was watching television the other day. The usual commercials were playing, one after another. Then one hit me hard. A man was telling me about the wonders of his pizza. How his cheese was real and his ingredients the best. He boasted of having a special pizza on sale this month. "Try our ancho chile pizza," he said.

What? Ancho chile pizza? And at Peter Piper Pizza, no less. I quickly put on my huaraches and found the nearest location to try this new pizza wonder.

Little Johnny was having his birthday party and invited 30 of his best 6-year-old friends. When I arrived at Peter Piper, I was trampled by a swarm of first-graders. Past the giant video arcade, big-screen TVs and mothers having pitchers of beer (if I had to attend a party for 30 first-graders, I would drink pitchers of beer as well), I finally found the counter. The pimple-faced teenager assured me that the aaahn-sho chile pizza was great. As a rule of thumb, I never trust pimple-faced teenagers dressed in work shirts that are way too big. After trying my aaahn-sho chile pizza, I came to the conclusion that, once again, my instinct was right. I will keep my ancho chile for mole.

Ancho chile is Mexico's most popular and commonly used chile. In its fresh form, it is called poblano (from the Puebla region of Mexico), although it is mistakenly called pasilla at most of the local supermarkets.

There are two techniques for drying the pepper. One is sun-drying. The other is a slow oven-roasting with the finished product called chile mulato, with a deeper and smokier flavor than the ancho. Just for the record, the pasilla is a dried form of a chile called chilaca (from central Mexico).

The ancho chile has a mild, almost sweet flavor with hints of fruit, licorice and a bit of woodiness. It is used as a main ingredient in almost all moles and red-chile sauces. I can see why some savvy chef at the Peter Piper test kitchen somewhere in Middle America would think to add it to the spectrum of the chain's ingredients.

But come on. Peter Piper is known for its no-frills pizza for kids and its great selection of video games. Not exactly the place where one would think to find a gourmet or exotic ingredient such as the dried poblano, the chile ancho.

Since my encounter with the pizza commercial, I have spent hours worried that soon the ancho chile will become passé, past its prime. Please, Mr. Piper, leave our ancho alone. Try something else, say, habaneros -- the kids should love that.

Silvana Salcido Esparza is a local chef and restaurant owner.


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