Ancho Chiles are dried poblano peppers.
Fresh, poblanos are shiny, dark green, and smooth with a cute curvy heart shape. They have mild to moderate heat and have a meaty rich flavor. Dried, they are called anchos and take on notes of deep cherry, raisins, and prunes.
One of the most popular chiles used in Mexican cooking, Anchos are very wrinkly, dark, almost black in color, but after soaking, their color becomes dark mahogany. These are pretty large chiles (about 3 – 4 inches long and about 2 1/2 inches wide), and it's popular in Mexico to stuff both the dried and fresh versions. Anchos are also widely used in chili and stews, moles, and other sauces and pastes. This versatile dried chile is also ground into a powder and used as a seasoning rub or paste or added into recipes.
Find ancho chiles in Latin market and at many national grocery stores. Look for them in the international food aisle or in the produce section where dried foods are displayed.
You can also purchase ground ancho powder in the spice aisle, but it isn’t at all difficult to grind your own. Remove the stems and scrape out the membrane and seeds and pulverize them in a spice grinder. If you’d like, toast the ancho chiles first to unleash more of their flavor.
So what do you do if you can’t find ancho chiles? Experts and chile enthusiasts will tell you there is no substitute for their unique, earthy flavor—and they aren’t wrong. But when you’re already elbow deep in the recipe, or don’t want to run from store to store, here are some ways to keep on cooking:
1) If you’re shopping, look for another type of dried chile to sub-in like mulato chiles. These peppers are closely related to poblanos and somewhat similar to anchos when dried. Mulato chiles are left to ripen on the vine a little longer before drying which brings out a little more sweetness with hints of chocolate notes.
2) Pasilla chiles are often mislabeled as ancho. They are a little hotter than ancho but will do a reasonable job standing in in a pinch. These can also be ground to stand in for ancho powder.
3) If you’re at home and can’t run out, sub in ground chipotle chile powder if you have it—it will be considerably hotter, so keep that in mind and consider scaling back.
4) Ground chipotle will also add smoky flavor to the recipe.
5) As a last resort, go ahead and use chili powder. It isn’t the same thing at all—it’s got a lot of add-ins like garlic, oregano, and pepper, so check to make sure the recipe flavor will remain balanced.
Uses for Poblanos and Ancho Chile Powder: