Posted March 23, 2005 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Just add Chipotles for an exotic dinner

Just add Chipotles for an exotic dinner

OK, it’s official. Chipotles chilies are part of the mainstream American diet.

These spicy little devils (properly pronounced shi-pote-la), actually just smoked jalapenos, come dried or canned in a deceptively hot tomato and vinegar mix called adobo sauce. They’ve shown up everywhere in the past couple of years. I’ve seen them in dips, marinades for steak and in the name of a growing chain of Tex/Mex restaurants.

I’ve even seen them in Sheldon.

I learned this in December when I was back home in northwest Iowa and met my old friend, Liesl, for lunch in downtown Sheldon. This lunch is an annual event for us, and I look forward to it for weeks. It’s our one chance to catch up and talk about who’s gotten married, who’s having a baby, who’s in jail, etc. We talk about the books we are reading and the movies we’ve seen. She tells me about her recent trip to Europe. I counter with my trip to Indiana.

In short, our lunch rarely has much to do with food.

Now, I love small town food. One of my favorite things to do on the road is to eat at whatever greasy spoon grabs my eye. I always get the breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, fries and a slice of apple pie. Usually, my bill totals somewhere between $4 and $5, which appeals to my internal cheapskate.

Sadly, the last true greasy spoon in Sheldon, The El Trio Diner, closed several years ago. Now when you go out to eat in Sheldon, you can choose from either, A) pizza; B) burgers and fries; or C) a sub sandwich. It is a place Liesl once referred to as “the land of iceberg lettuce.”

But no more. Liesl’s mom suggested we try a place called The Picket Fence, a gift store with a little restaurant in back serving soups and sandwiches. I was intrigued. My interest grew when I learned that The Picket Fence is located in the building that had housed the Corner Drug Store, one of the oldest stores in town. It closed in the early 1980s, and I hadn’t been in the building since. We agreed to give The Picket Fence a shot.

I’m glad we did. My jaw dropped when I saw the menu, which featured, among other things, French onion soup and a turkey wrap with Romaine lettuce and chipotle mayonnaise. It was delicious. The smoky flavor of the chili complemented turkey while giving the sandwich a little bite.

That’s what I love about chipotles: They make anything they touch taste just a little bit exotic. But chipotles are growing less and less exotic every day. You can find them in almost every grocery store in town, usually in the ethnic foods aisle.

Still, I caution you to go easy. A little chipotle goes a long way. Earlier this winter, I tried substituting a whole chipotle for a jalapeno pepper in a wonderful recipe for black bean chili. I thought, “What’s the difference? They’re both just different types of jalapenos, right?” Wrong. The chili, which had had a pleasant bite with the jalapeno, nearly took my head off when made with the chipotle. I started sweating like it was July and had to drink a second beer to cool off (the sacrifices I make for food).

But don’t be scared of the chipotle. The recipes below feature the canned chilies, but give the dried ones a shot, too. Grind them up in a spice grinder (in our house a spare electric coffee mill does the job nicely) and add a dusting to whatever you think needs a little extra flavor.


Canned chipotles usually contain about 10 separate chilies as well as a nice thick adobo sauce. I cannot conceive of a recipe that would require the entire can (outside of a recipe for homemade pepper spray), so that leaves the cook with the dilemma of what to do with the rest of the can.

You could just cover it with aluminum foil and freeze the entire can. Or, you can try this little tip. We don’t remember where it came from, but it works nicely.

Open the can of chipotles and pour the chilies onto a plate. Place each chipotle in the separate compartment of an ice cube tray. Cover each chili with the remaining sauce and freeze. Once the chipotles are frozen, pop them out of the tray and seal them in a plastic bag. Return the bag to the freezer and wash the tray well. Simple and very convenient.


This recipe shows that chipotles aren’t just for dinner any more. This simple mayonnaise, which is from the September 2002 issue of “Bon Appetit,” makes a tasty complement to any sandwich. It’s a nice combination of the spicy and the sweet, but just make sure to mince those chipotles fine. That way the flavors really are able to blend and balance.

In honor of The Picket Fence in Sheldon, add it to a turkey wrap. Throw in some lettuce and some chopped tomatoes and you’ve got a great lunch.


1 cup real mayonnaise (Do not use Miracle Whip-type dressings; they are not the same thing.)

3 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoon minced canned chipotle chilies

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


This recipe is from the April 2002 “Bon Appetit.” Other than the flavor, what I love most about these tostadas is how easy they are to make. From beginning to end, they take about an hour and 15 minutes and much of that time is just letting the mixture simmer down and thicken.

Moreover, the tostada sauce is wonderfully versatile. Add some rice to the leftover sauce, roll it all together in a tortilla and you have a wonderful soft taco.

If you are concerned about such things, these tostadas are not overly spicy, but they are loaded with flavor.


2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 whole boned chicken breast

1¾ cups chicken broth

2 cups chopped tomatoes

6 garlic cloves, chopped

3 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chilies

12 tostada shells

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Sour cream

Cilantro, finely chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer onions to medium bowl. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the same pot. Add chicken and sauté until beginning to brown on all sides (about 2 minutes). Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and boil until chicken is cooked through (about 10 minutes). Transfer chicken to a cutting board. When the chicken has cooled slightly, shred it into small pieces. Reserve the broth in the pot.

Combine the tomatoes, garlic, chipotle chilies and ¼ cup of the reserved chicken broth. Process to a smooth puree. Add the puree to the remaining stock in the pot. Add the onions and the shredded chicken. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium and continue to simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly (between 20 and 30 minutes). Season sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble tostadas, put the shells on a flat surface. Scoop out about 1/3 cup of the sauce mixture and place in the center of each shell. Top with a sprinkle of feta cheese and a dollop of sour cream. Garnish with chopped cilantro.


This recipe, which is from the December 2001 issue of “Bon Appetit,” introduced us to the chipotle. Back then, when I was reading the list of ingredients, I stumbled over the strange sounding chili and wondered where in the heck we would ever find such a thing. Luckily, they were on the shelf of our grocery store.

Molé sauce is a devious little dish that combines the smoke of the chipotle with the subtle bitterness of unsweetened chocolate. That combination might sound odd at first, but once you try it, you’ll find it irresistible. And really, how could anything with chocolate be bad?

This version of molé is pretty basic. More complicated versions call for several kinds of chilies to be cooked with various spices and, of course, the chocolate. Here, the chipotle takes over for most of those flavors and does a wonderful job of carrying the dish. We serve it over rice, but you could try it wrapped in a tortilla as well.


1 whole boneless chicken breast, chopped

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2 (14½ ounce) cans diced tomatoes

1 cup low-salt chicken broth

2 tablespoons minced canned chipotle chilies, plus 1 tablespoon of adobo sauce

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, chopped

Coat the chicken on all sides with cumin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a heavy large pot over medium high heat. Add the chicken; sauté until browned on all sides (about 5 minutes). Add onion and sauté until beginning to brown (about 3 minutes). Add the tomatoes with juice, broth, the chipotle chilies, adobo sauce and chocolate and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce thickens slightly (about 20 minutes).

Season with salt and pepper. Serve over rice.

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog