One morning in late summer at our vegetable & fruit stand of choice, along Hwy. 101 by the Hoquiam River, when I found that the price of sweet red or green bell peppers had doubled from the previous week (I try to keep one of these available in the refrigerator at all times, as well as zucchini, because of their versatility); and a large bin of green serrano chile peppers across the aisle caught my eyes, I had an inspiration that I could possibly substitute serrano for the sliced-up bells in my entrée sauces and achieve the same color splash. Not knowing how hot they might be, I went home to research.
Latīna culture apparently has different words for identifying the chile varieties depending upon their preparation before use: fresh pods are distinct from dried red or darker pods, and de-seeded chiles which have been flaked into small bits or ground into chili powder may be distinguished linguistically from those in the pod form. I respect the utility of their Spanish nomenclature — it can be confusing, nonetheless, for a Norte Americano trying to learn about chiles. After our sister-in-law had grown a remarkable chile plant against the wall of the house by her back door in Goldendale, we grew one the next summer (in the oughts) in Vancouver and dried excess into curled-up pods. I dutifully flaked-out the dried flesh of five or six pods and retained in a jar. It was rather mild — something one could add as spice to a meat sauce (or chili) along with garden oregano and garlic. I labelled the jar poblano, although perhaps it is better referred to as ancho, I now know. I learned, also during my brief research, that dried or smoked jalapeño is distinguished in a similar way by the name chipotle.
Serrano chile, I read, ranges somewhat higher on the Scoville heat scale than jalapeño; but the next day at the produce stand I decided to buy and try one anyway. I cautiously sliced my serrano longitudinally in half, and only used one of those de-seeded & chopped for a sliced pork sirloin with some zucchini/ chanterelles/onions to make a lunch sauté over re-heated jasmine rice. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem hot to me, and I liked the flavoring it added. Serrano softens much like sliced bell pepper when sautéed in olive oil over low heat, and it could be that the slow sauté process diffuses some of the heat away, which would be present when used raw in salsa.
I was buying 2-3 each week subsequently, and the price during September was very attractive at 4 or 5￠for each pod. One important aspect to remember, of which I was aware but forgot one day, is to thoroughly wash your hands immediately after handling a serrano
pod for the slicing/de-seeding process! If you happen to touch the edge of your eyelids or lips without washing, or inhale too deeply over the cutting board, the burning is very painful for fifteen minutes or so.
Serrano chile can be an inexpensive, tasty, and versatile ingredient to utilize in one’s repertoire for entrée preparations. It has suitable applications in chili bean meals, burritos, pasta sauces, pork fried rice, cassoulet, omelettes, soups, and so forth. Sautéed by itself, or with sweet onion, bell peppers, etc. it could be served in a small condiment dish for family or guests to spoon alongside a chicken, turkey, or oyster entrée if they wish. It could be overpowering for lightly-flavored fish, scallops, or clams; although some might find that touch works for them, failing the availability of tarragon which I prefer there currently. The serrano chile provides, in addition to flavor, the vitamins A, C, K, & E, along with niacin and other Bs. Mexican cuisine generally uses fresh serrano chile in pico de gallo and salsa, which may explain why I’ve been unable to discover a Spanish word for dried serrano. … Apologies for the long sentence in my first paragraph. I may have been reading too much Faulkner in recent weeks.
Faulkner, William. (1936, republished 1990). Absalom, Absalom! NY: Library of America.
Various Wikipedia pages I read detailed the Spanish words for dried poblano and jalapeño chiles, and the vitamin content of a serrano chile.