Pasilla Chilies

Pasilla chilies, are dried, ripe, chilaca peppers (part of the highly variable species Capsicum annuum). Pasillas are elongate, thin, and tapering, with wrinkled, nearly black skin.  They feature prominently in many Mexican mole sauces.  Along with ancho and mulato peppers, they make up the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Mexican dried chilies.

Pasilla peppers should not be confused with poblano peppers, or ancho chilies. Poblanos are fresh, broad-shouldered chilies that are often erroneously labeled as pasilla peppers outside of Mexico.  Anchos are dried poblano peppers, and are themselves sometimes incorrectly called pasillas.

Pasilla chilies are are available whole (as shown in the picture), and ground into either flakes or powder.

Scoville Heat Units

1,000-4,000 (mild/moderate)


Pasilla chilies are one of the most important mole and sauce chilies in Mexican cooking, making them an essential item at any well-stocked Mexican or Latin grocery store. Nonetheless, they are not generally as easy to find as ancho chilies. In areas catering to large Mexican populations they may be found in well-stocked big-box grocery stores as well. Ground and/or flaked pasilla chilies are sometimes found at specialty stores, but they are generally not as easy to find as ground ancho chilies.

While pasillas 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.

Chilaca peppers (the peppers from which pasilla chilies are made) are rarely available in their fresh state. Because of this, drying your own pasilla chilies is all but impossible unless you’re able to procure a small supply from a grower or grow your own fresh chilies.

Ground pasilla chili powder can also be made at home relatively easily by toasting and pulverizing pasilla 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.

Pasilla chili peppers should be dry and firm but still pliant – extremely brittle and damaged peppers should be avoided if possible. Likewise, very soft peppers may have been exposed to moisture and should be avoided. Because of their tough-but-flexible skin and flat shape, pasilla chilies tend to hold up fairly well without breaking or cracking. That being said, cracked or torn chilies might be encountered; as long as they’re still supple, these are fine to use (though the broken ones will often spill seeds all over the place). The colour should be a very deep greenish- or brown-black colour.

Pasilla 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.

Pasilla chilies can very a great somewhat in length, ranging anywhere from 13-18 cm (5-8 inches) long. The chilaca pepper they come from is long, narrow, and somewhat twisted, so the dried pasilla is seldom more than 4 cm (~1.5 inches) across. Broad-shouldered, triangular peppers that are sold as pasillas are almost certainly incorrectly labeled ancho chilies. The heat is somewhat more variable than among some of the other dried chilies, ranging from quite mild to moderate, so you may choose to taste a small portion of your peppers before cooking with them in order to achieve consistent results.

This section deals with uses for pasilla chilies – for information about preparing them, check the “Preparation and Storage” tab below.

Pasilla chilies are an essential ingredient in many sauces, moles, soups, and more. They are used primarily for their flavour and not to add heat to a dish (though they can in some cases add a moderate spiciness to meals, especially if the seeds are left in). They are frequently pureed and added to soups and sauces. Ground or flaked pasilla chilies may be used the same way, or as a condiment or late addition to dishes.

Dried pasillas 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 fruity and mildly sweet flavour.

Dried and ground or flaked pasillas can be used virtually anywhere that you’d used a standard chili powder, though it’s worth noting that they impart a distinctive fruity flavour of their own, and not a generic hot-pepper flavour.

Like most dried peppers, pasilla chilies are a quite tough on their own and are generally blended or otherwise incorporated into a dish. Because of their long, thin shape, and unlike their ancho cousins, they’re rarely softened and stuffed.

Preparation

Pasilla 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).

Pasilla chilies, likes many other dried chilies, are often toasted in a dry pan or comal 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. In some cases, they’re added directly to a soup or sauce, especially if the end result is pureed. 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 pasillas.

Whole pasilla 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 pasilla chilies without toasting/drying them first, as they generally contain enough moisture to make the end product gummy.

Storage

Pasilla 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.

In addition to the standard pasilla chili, there is a distinctive variety called the pasilla de Oaxaca. This distinctive variety is made by smoking a chilaca pepper, rather than simply air- or sun-drying it. Because the smoke adds a considerable amount of flavour, the pasilla de Oaxaca should really be thought of as a completely distinct chili with its own uses, rather than one that can be used interchangeably with the standard pasilla chili.
Given the wealth of peppers both dried and fresh in Central and South American cuisine, it should come as little surprise that substitutes for pasilla chilies are simple to find in some ways, and rather difficult in others. There are many other dried peppers – some of these make appropriate replacements, while others are far too different to be used.

The best substitute is definitely the ancho chili, whose taste is similar, though somewhat milder and less sweet. Ancho chilies have similar raisin and coffee tasting notes, and it tends to be a little milder than the average pasilla chili. It’s worth noting that many peppers sold as pasillas in the USA and Canada are actually ancho chilies anyway.

Mulato chilies (which are also a dried poblano) are a respectable second choice – they’re relatively similar in terms of flavour, however it’s worth noting that because mulatos are picked when riper than anchos, and because poblano peppers become hotter as they ripen, mulato peppers are generally spicier (sometimes significantly so) than anchos. Mulato peppers also tend to be sweeter and smokier, with cherry, chocolate, and/or licorice notes. Ancho chiles are a little milder, with coffee and raisin notes.

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 interchangeably. In fact, they’re often used in concert to great effect, lending complex and nuanced flavour to many Mexican dishes (especially the famous and complex Oaxacan moles).

Ground, flaked, and whole pasilla 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 pasillas, 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.

MEXICAN RECIPES

Sort By Rand
  • Pico de gallo, or salsa fresca - uncooked tomato, onion, cilantro, and pepper salsa - Diversivore.com
    Pico de Gallo
    Pico de gallo is simple to make and easy to love. This recipe uses multiple measurements to make consistent batches, as well as annotations and variations in case...
  • Yucatecan Mexican Fish Tacos with Green Peach Salsa - Diversivore.com
    Yucatecan Fish Tacos with Green Peach Salsa
    Who doesn't love a good taco? Fish tacos have possibly become the all-star in the taco world over the last few years, and for good reason. But...
  • Mexican Christmas Salad with beets, oranges, and jicama - Diversivore.com
    Mexican Christmas Salad
    If you're stuck in a salad rut, this will get you out in spectacular fashion. Mexican Christmas (or Christmas eve) salads are colourful and loaded with the amazing...
  • Mezcalita del Ocaso - Mezcal cocktail with grilled pineapple, chili, and hibiscus agua fresca - Diversivore.com
    Mezcalita del Ocaso
    A Sunset Mezcal Cocktail, made with grilled marinaded pineapple, lime, cascabel chili, hibiscus agua fresca, and of course bold and smoky mezcal. This is my kind of drink...
  • Carne Asada Borracha - beer and guajillo chili marinaded flank steak - Diversivore.com
    Carne Asada Borracha
    Carne Asada Borracha basically means drunken grilled meat. That description, while accurate, barely touches on just how amazing and delicious this dish really is. Flank steak is...
  • Arroz Verde - Green Rice made with Poblanos and Cilantro - Diversivore.com
    Green Rice - Arroz Verde
    The words "Rice Side Dish" might not necessarily evoke excitement, but in this case it definitely should. Mexican rice bridges a gap between plain add-on and complex creation;...
  • Pambazos con Huevos - perfectly messy Mexican stuffed sandwiches, drenched in guajillo sauce and fried - Diversivore.com
    Pambazos con Huevos
    Mexican sandwiches, soaked in guajillo chili sauce and fried, served with spiced potatoes and a creamy egg-tomatillo salsa verde. This is some seriously delicious (and seriously different) messy comfort...
  • Shakshouka Rancheros - Eggs poached in a spiced tomato sauce, loaded with Mexican flavours and ingredients - Diversivore.com
    Shakshouka Rancheros
    Eggs poached in a richly spiced tomato sauce make for a popular breakfast throughout the Middle East and much of the Mediterranean. But as luck would have it,...
  • Halibut escabeche - cooked and marinated with olive oil, vinegar, garlic and jalapenos - Diversivore.com
    Halibut Escabeche
    When you think about making fish, you probably don't think about making it a week ahead of time and letting it sit in the fridge. Many of you...
  • Spot Prawns and Rajas (Roasted Poblano Pepper Strips) in a Creamy Buttermilk or Jocoque sauce - Diversivore.com
    Spot Prawn and Raja Enchiladas with Buttermilk Sauce
    It's spot prawn season, which means it's time for amazing seafood. It also means that it's time to do some mental math to figure out if it's cheaper...
  • Smoky Mexican Oyster Mushroom Soup - Diversivore.com
    Smoky Mexican Oyster Mushroom Soup
    Mushrooms are not terribly well-represented in Mexican food outside of Mexico, but they're very popular and used to great effect. This recipe from Veracruz utilizes smoky chipotle peppers...
  • Puerco Pibil - Yucatecan slow-cooked pork made here with an Instant Pot pressure cooker - Diversivore.com
    Pressure Cooker Puerco Pibil
    A classic and unforgettable Yucatecan Mexican dish, modified here for an electric pressure cooker (specifically my beloved Instant Pot). Because this is Diversivore, you know that means that...
  • Seafood Soup with Red Pipian Sauce - Diversivore.com
    Red Pipian Seafood Soup
    Mole doesn't have to be insanely complicated. Red pipian sauce is packed with flavour, but fairly easy to prepare. It's also easy to transform into a rich, velvety...
  • Chicken tinga, served as tacos with pico de gallo, avocadoes and cheese - Diversivore.com
    Chicken Tinga
    The "Mexican" section of the grocery store is, generally speaking, something of a misnomer. At best, it's more of a Tex-Mex hub. At worst, it's all about...