Pasilla Chiles, Capsicum annuum, are indigenous to Central Mexico. Pronounced “pah-SEE-yah”, this is a key chile in the famous “holy trinity” of Mexican chiles used in Mexican moles along with the ancho and the mulato chiles.
Like many chiles these are known as one thing when fresh and are called something else when in their dried state. The fresh version is known as Chilaca chiles and these dark green chiles have a similar heat profile to the more popular Poblano pepper (when dried known as ancho chile). The Chilaca chile is narrow and grows up to 10” long and usually has a twisted shape, which is not as pronounced when dried, in its fresh form it is also known as pasilla bajio, chile negro or “Mexican negro”. Chilacas change from dark green to dark brown as they mature.
When a Chilaca is dried it becomes known as a pasilla chile, perhaps because its skin is so wrinkled that it resembles a grape or a prune. When dried this chile is black in color and is called Pasilla Negro, chile negro, chile pasilla and chile pasilla de Mexico.
There are approximately 3 dried Pasilla Negro Chiles per ounce.
History of Pasilla Chiles
The word Pasilla is derived from the Spanish word “Pasa” which translates to “little black raisin”. The name Chilaca is derived from the Nahuatl (pronounced "na wak") language and translates to "gray hair" or "old," which describes its bent and wrinkled appearance. Nahuatl was spoken by the ancient Aztecs.
The Chilaca chile pepper is believed to have originated in the Puebla region of Mexico just south of Mexico City. Today in central and northwestern Mexico, the Chilaca chile is cultivated primarily in Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan and Zacatecas.
Chilaca Chile Cultivation
The Chilaca plant typically reaches a height of 2-3', but some plants may get even taller, and each plant produces 20-30 fruits. The plant's fruit bearing stems begin higher up on the plant so that the long, maturing fruits on the lower branches do not touch the ground. Their flowers are usually white, sometimes greenish. The growing period is generally 90 to 100 days.
There’s an “oldness” to the appearance of these chiles, they’re more wrinkled than other Mexican grown chiles in the same heat range, and their long slim bodies (up to 5 to 10 inches) bend and twist like old tree branches. Their maturing cycle also doesn’t have the same vibrancy as other chilies as Chilacas mature from a rich green to a dark greenish brown that borders on black (which becomes even more pronounced when dried), very different from the bright reds that most other Mexican chiles sport as they mature.
Some of the more popular varieties of Pasilla chiles grown in Mexico are Apaseo, Pabellon and Pátzcuaro (a dark variety grown in Michoacán).
Cooking with Pasilla Chiles
In addition to Mexican moles, Pasilla Chiles are used in adobo sauces and salsas. In central Mexico they're used as the signature flavor in tortilla soup. When used in soup it’s more common to add the crushed Pasilla Negro chiles on top of the soup than to have them added to the base during cooking but you can certainly do both for more complex depths of flavor.
This chile is a flavorful ingredient when used in your favorite Mexican recipes such as tacos, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas and tostados, but they also work well in cream sauces (especially for fish) and we also like to be a bit adventurous and use them in meat loaf, beef stew or corn chowder.
Pasilla chiles are produced and used in Mexico’s Central Highlands, especially as the base for regional marinades, moles, sauces, soups and stews. They can also be stuffed.
Pasilla Negro chiles work well in combination with duck, fennel, fruits, garlic, honey, lamb, Mexican oregano, mushrooms and seafood.
A puree of soaked Pasilla Negro chiles will be brownish-black with reddish overtones. Pasillas yield a fair amount of pulp per ounce.
We like to dry toast these before re-hydrating them for maximum flavor. To re-hydrate soak in hot water for 15-20 minutes but be careful to not let them soak for longer than that or they become bitter.
Beware of California Suppliers
If you use a California based supplier for your Pasilla chiles be aware that it may not actually be a Pasilla Negro Chile that you're getting. In California the ancho chile is frequently called pasilla. In areas where the fusion of Cal-Mex cuisine is prevalent fresh poblano chiles are often referred to as pasilla.
Pasilla Negros are long, thin chiles that are 5” to 10" in length and 1" to 1-1/2” wide at the top (by the stem). Meanwhile ancho chiles are about 3” wide and 4” in length and tapers to a point. So if you get your dried chiles from California growers or suppliers be sure to check carefully as may not be true pasilla peppers.
What Do Pasilla Negro Chiles Taste Like
This thin fleshed chile has one of the more sophisticated chile flavors and the taste is pungent and tangy with chocolate and raisin notes, a rich flavor and woodsy undertones.
How Hot Are Pasilla Negro Chiles
Pasilla Negro chiles are considered a mild heat chile and come in at 1,000 to 2,000 Scoville Heat Units (SHU).