Sunday, 14 October 2007
Jalapeño chiles (peppers) are native to Mexico, specifically Xalapa in Veracruz, although they are found throughout the country. They are used fresh, but also commonly preserved in brine (pickled) or smoked and dried, at which point they become known as chipotles.
When I was young, they were only available tinned from Mexico (still a common way to get them) and you really had to seek them out. Now, they are grown here quite commonly.
They are not considered outstandingly hot, and their heat will dissipate somewhat with cooking. However, they can be quite variable - I've had some that almost qualified as bland and others that pretty much made my hair stand on end. The variety being grown will affect the level of piquancy, but so will the growing season - hot dry weather producing hotter peppers than mild, wetter summers. Hence, the fresh Jalapeños available in Ontario markets can be relied on to be considerably milder than the ones which arrive in tins from Mexico.
They are considered to be best in their green state, before they reach full maturity and turn red. However, when I made jelly with mine, I segregated the red from the green, and I thought the red pepper jelly was better - hotter, prettier and fuller in flavour.
The fine, dry lines you can see on some of the peppers are a sign of maturity and hotness.
I've grown Jalapeños in pots, where they can do quite well. In spite of being a form of capsicum annuum, they are perennial, and can be over-wintered indoors, if you have a warm sunny place for them. They will produce a pepper or two, but they will slow down considerably, and by late spring may even have lost most of their leaves. Hang onto them though, once they go back outside in the spring they should revive.