Mulato chilies, are dried, ripe, mature poblano peppers (part of the highly variable species Capsicum annuum and very similar to the poblano pepper). Mulato chilies are moderately hot, with a sweet, fruity, slightly smoky flavour.
Mulato chilies are closely related to ancho chilies, which are also a variety of dried poblano. The primary difference between the two peppers is that maturity level of the fresh pepper at the time of picking; mulatos are very ripe when picked, making them spicier and fruitier, with chocolate, licorice, and cherry tasting notes. The poblano varieties used to make the two chilies do vary slightly as well, though the maturity at the time of picking has the biggest influence on the taste of the dried chili.
Mulato chilies are not subject to the same naming confusion that plagues their cousin the ancho chili. Mature, purple-red mulato poblanos are grown exclusively for drying, so there tends to be no confusion over whether a recipe is referring to the fresh or the dried pepper.
Mulato chilies are available whole (as shown in the picture), crushed into flakes, and ground into a powder. Whole chilies tend to be easiest to find, though some online retailers are making it easier to obtain the other versions.
Scoville Heat Units
*Some poblano peppers (and consequently some mulato chilies) are considerably hotter than others, even when originating on the same plant. If in doubt, taste a small sample.
While mulato chilies are an important Mexican ingredient, they are not a particularly common in the “Mexican” section found in many grocery stores, which tends to lean towards pre-packaged Tex-Mex.
Unlike standard poblano peppers, mulato poblanos are rarely available in their fresh state. Because of this, drying your own mulato chilies is all but impossible unless you’re able to procure a small supply from a grower or grow your own fresh chilies. Green (unripe) poblano peppers cannot be dried to make mulatos, or even anchos, as both chilies are made by drying mature or very mature peppers.
Ground mulato chili powder can be made at home relatively easily by toasting and pulverizing chilies, ideally in a food processor or spice grinder. It’s fairly easy to achieve a chili flake consistency, though you may find it harder to a true powder consistency without added drying stages and a high quality spice grinder.
Mulato chili powder should have a strong, pleasant smell and a rich, deep colour. The flavour starts to fade after the chilies are processed, so try to find the freshest and most recently-ground chili powder that you can.
Mulato chilies can very a great deal in size, ranging anywhere from 8-18 cm (3-7 inches) long. All of them will possess a broad-shouldered, roughly triangular shape. Variation in size does not particularly affect the flavour, quality, or heat of the peppers. Choose a consistent size if you plan to use recipes calling for a certain number (rather than weight) of peppers in order to achieve consistent results. Whenever possible, try to cook with mulato chilies by weight rather than number in order to avoid confusion.
Mulato chilies are an essential ingredient in many sauces, moles, soups, and more. They make frequent appearances in enchilada sauces and complex moles. They are used primarily for their flavour, though they do add some heat to the final dish as well. They are frequently pureed and added to soups and sauces. Ground or flaked mulato chilies may be used the same way, or as a condiment or late addition to dishes.
Dried mulatos can be soaked and pureed, then used in this format as a quick (and smooth) addition to sauces and soups. Likewise the flavourful liquid that results from soaking the peppers is often used as an ingredient itself, and will impart a milder version of the same hot-sweet flavour. In some cases, they’re added directly to a soup or sauce, especially if the end result is pureed.
Dried and ground or flaked mulato chilies can be used virtually anywhere that you’d used a standard chili powder, though it’s worth noting that they impart a distinctive fruity, chocolaty flavour of their own, and not a generic hot-pepper flavour.
Like most dried peppers, mulato chilies are a quite tough on their own and are generally blended or otherwise incorporated into a dish. However, there are some dishes that call for whole (softened) peppers, often stuffed.
Mulato chilies require a low-to-moderate amount of preparation, though the particular method(s) necessary will vary from recipe to recipe. As a general rule, the stems are removed and discarded, and the pepper is sliced open to discard the seeds (though this is often optional depending on the desired heat of the final dish, as the seeds and membranes are the spiciest part of the pepper).
Mulato chilies, likes many other dried chilies, are often toasted in a dry pan to accentuate their flavour. The toasted chilies are then generally rehydrated in warm water or stock, then used (plus or minus the flavourful soaking liquid) in a recipe. The particular method necessary are usually specified in a given recipe, but these basic principles can easily be used by the cook looking to create or adapt a recipe featuring mulato chilies.
Whole mulato chilies are easily dried and pulverized in a spice grinder, food processor, or large mortar and pestle to create chili flakes. Discard the stems before crushing, and (if desired) remove the seeds for a milder end product. Ground chili powder is a little harder to achieve at home because of lingering moisture and the tough skins of the chilies, but it can be made by further drying chili flakes and running them through a good spice grinder. Do not try to grind ancho chilies without toasting/drying them first, as they generally contain enough moisture to make the end product gummy.
Mulato chilies should be stored in an airtight container to prevent them from either absorbing or losing excess moisture. Store the peppers in a cool, dark cupboard to ensure that they retain their flavour.
Ground and flaked chilies should be stored in a similar fashion.
Poblano peppers are also dried when slightly younger to make the common (and milder) ancho chili.
The unique flavour and moderate heat of the mulato chili make it somewhat difficult to replace. The best substitute is probably the ancho chili, whose taste is similar, though somewhat less fruity. Anchos tend to have pronounced raisin and coffee tasting notes, as opposed to the strong chocolate/licorice character of the mulato. Ancho chilies tend to be considerably milder than mulato chilies, making them a good replacement for those looking to tone down the heat in a dish. Spice-lovers may need to add a hot pepper (an arbol chili for example) in order to achieve good results, though doing so will change the flavour profile of the dish.
Pasilla chilies are a reasonable second choice, though they more closely resemble the ancho in flavour and heat.
It’s worth noting that anchos, mulatos, and pasillas together make up the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Mexican chilies. While they all possess similar features, each is valued for its distinctive flavour. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mexican cooks don’t generally treat them as interchangeable. In fact, they’re often used in concert to great effect, lending complex and nuanced flavour to many Mexican dishes.
Ground, flaked, and whole mulato chilies are semi-interchangeable; the flavours are similar (though ground preparations are often milder), but whole anchos will lend a fruitier flavour as well as a textural element when rehydrated and added to a recipe. If you are using ground anchos, try to ensure that they’re as fresh as possible – crushed chilies begin to lose their flavour after processing. If you have the option, the best results will generally be obtained by using whole chilies that you toast and process yourself.