Serrano peppers pack some serious heat. A variety of chili about 5 times hotter than the average jalapeno, the petite serrano delivers quite a punch for its 1- to 2-inch size. Easy to find in most supermarkets, serranos' fiery taste can be tempered by roasting, and they lend flavor along with heat to a range of dishes, crossing many types of cuisines.
When selecting serrano peppers, look for firm, unblemished skin with no soft or wrinkled spots. Serranos start off green; eventually ripening to yellow, orange or red. Usually, green serranos are milder than their riper counterparts. Since they do not dry well, use them while they’re fresh. Or, try roasting them, then freeze them to save for future dishes.
While preparing serranos, take care to protect your skin and eyes from the irritating oil of the peppers. Some people wear gloves while chopping and seeding chilis to prevent the caustic oil from burning their fingertips. Wash your hands and all cutting surfaces thoroughly after handling chili peppers. Although seeding the peppers is optional, much of the heat is concentrated in the seeds, so seeding them will diminish their heat. Make sure to cut away the fibrous ribs inside the pepper, as well, to avoid the hottest part of the pepper.
Serrano peppers are added to a variety of sauces, salsas and stews. They are common in Thai and Vietnamese dishes as well as in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. They do not need to be peeled due to their thin skin, but are often roasted to tame the intensity of their heat and add a hint of sweetness to their flavor. Serranos can even be pickled quite successfully. However, fresh serranos are the stars in salsas, often in combination with fruit such as mango, pineapple or peach.
Use in a Marinade
Another way to experience the heat and flavor of serrano peppers is to use them to spice up a marinade for fish, meat or tofu. Seed and roast green serranos to mellow their fire slightly, then puree them with a bit of vegetable stock or other liquid. The resulting paste can be blended into marinades to gently infuse the flavor of the pepper into whatever you are marinating without overwhelming it. You can freeze leftover pepper puree in ice cube trays, and pop one out whenever you need to add zest to a dish.
Andrea DeShazo has been writing and editing lifestyle articles since 2003. DeShazo has written for several major daily newspapers in Montana, Colorado and New Mexico. She has also taught writing to community college students on the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico. DeShazo has a Master of Arts in journalism from the University of Montana, and currently writes about food and gardening from her home in the Raleigh, N.C. area.