COWEN: Let me ask you some questions about
chiles: the area where you’ve probably had the greatest impact of all food areas.
Here I have some mulato chiles. If you look at a lot of food recipes, if you make a Mexican
mole, you will use more mulatos than any other kind of chile. Not always, but quite typically.
Say in the Rick Bayless recipe. Now why is that? What is it about this chile? MILLER: Well, first of all —
COWEN: Do what you want with it; we can buy another.
MILLER: First of all you have to open them up, because 90 percent of all chiles are mislabeled.
COWEN: Yes. MILLER: That’s one of the problems. Whatever
it says on the package may not be true. The point is that mulatos, when you hold them
up to the light, like this, see it’s more purple and more reddish . . .
COWEN: Yes, I do. MILLER: More cordovan. That is not a mulato.
COWEN: They defrauded me. MILLER: Yeah, that’s an ancho. Because a
mulato will be more coffee-ish and more dark-tone. What a mulato will do is actually have those
flavonoids that are coffee and chocolate. Those in a mole are the undertones of the
wide sort of structure or the wide foundation of those flavors that we really like.
Now the fruit tones, or the capsaicin, or the spicy tones, you basically accessorize.
The ancho is always the workhorse, because it carries the most fruit. The mulato carries
the coffee and chocolate, which is those more-or-less fermented umami — more complex sort
of flavonoids. Then we throw in some guajillos, arbols to brighten it all up and get it going.
COWEN: If I make a Mexican mole with these fraudulent mulato chiles —
[laughter] COWEN: What exactly will go wrong? You’re
a supertaster; you can tell the difference. What will be missing?
MILLER: Well the thing is, is that . . . I’m going to taste this for a second.
COWEN: Do as you wish. MILLER: We can all taste it together. First
of all, whenever you taste the chile, this is a vein here.
You want to stay away from the veins always. They contain 60 percent of the capsaicin.
You always stay away from the veins, even if you can’t see them. The other thing is,
this is old. This is what’s called a grade C chile. It’s small, and it’s dried, and
it’s last year’s crop. They lose their perfume. They’re like flowers.
What you end up is, you end up with the capsaicin. This is a little bit bitter; did you notice?
COWEN: Correct. MILLER: Like bitter tea. A little bit like
lapsang souchong; there’s a little bit of that smoky, woody, mushroomy flavor. Where’s
my coffee and chocolate? Where is it? It’s not here.
COWEN: It’s been taken from you. MILLER: If you use this in your recipe you’ll
say it didn’t come out well. You know what you didn’t do? You didn’t taste your ingredients.
You’re not going to get that wonderful, warm flavor that mulato is supposed to have.
COWEN: If I want a real mulato chile, how do I actually get one? Given that 90 percent
of it according to you is fraud, or at least misleading or someone made a mistake?
MILLER: You need to recognize when . . . OK, the other thing: when you buy chiles,
the thickness of the flesh is the most important thing. All fruits: where do the tannins come
from? Skins, seeds, and stems. The thicker the flesh, the least percentage of tannin.
That’s what Mexicans do. They look for the most pliable, they look
how thick it is, and when you hold it up to the light, they can tell how ripe it was before
it was dried, how much fruit flavor is going to be there. Those are the big primeros. So
when you’re using a mole, you’re really reincorporating fresh-fruit complex tones
into it. The last thing they’re looking for is heat. That’s the last thing they’re
looking for. COWEN: Two other chiles. Here —
MILLER: Also, notice it’s still bitter on the palate.
COWEN: Yes. MILLER: It tastes a little bit like the fruit
leather; it’s kind of stale. COWEN: This one claims to be an ancho, but
we’re happy to hear your revisionist take on it. MILLER: This is bigger, for one, and it’s
a little bit darker. It’s got that really dark, dark, dark, almost black, blackish-brown
look. You need to hold them up to the light, because that tells you. That’s red, like
an ancho. It’s pretty even inside; there’s no mold.
If you get one moldy chile out of 40, that’ll ruin the mole. A lot of people don’t look
for them. When you rehydrate them you taste the mold. This one, the leather again, it
should taste like a fruit leather. Don’t think chiles. What we were talking about with
Fuchsia, the paradigm — what you have in your head when you go after the taste is
what you will taste. If you think chiles and go for heat — you
need to think fruit leather. Which fruit do you get? Tell me the fruits you get. Not whether
it’s spicy or not; which fruits? MEGAN McARDLE: [tasting] It’s interesting.
MILLER: Is it cherry, apple, blackberry, blueberry? McARDLE: Maybe apple, maybe cherry. Not blueberry,
not blackberry. MILLER: No . . . it’s definitely like cherry.
It’s actually black cherry, or sour cherry, and it has little bits of woodsiness. There
is this blackberry-currant cassis, almost, like the French cassis flavor, at the bottom.
The point is, when you work with ingredients, I don’t care if it’s chile, coriander — I
have four different corianders, from Indian to this, with cumins. When you cook an ethnic
food, a poor chef, what they’re doing is they’re controlling their palate. It may
look like those ingredients are not important; they’re not expensive, but they’re very,
very important. This is not a bad ancho; I would say B-plus.
COWEN: Here’s supposedly a pasilla. Tell us the difference, and if that’s even what
it is. MILLER: It should be longer, for one thing.
And it should really get those black currant, black fruits, blackberry, when you . . . again,
think black fruits. COWEN: Is this just an ancho? Have I brought
you three packages of anchos, actually? MILLER: Maybe. Yeah, that’s what it is.
COWEN: It seems that’s what . . . it’s ancho everywhere.
MILLER: A little thicker. COWEN: They are really wide, then.
MILLER: A little bit. The second one was the best one.
COWEN: The second one was the best one? MILLER: Most fruit tones, freshest, and less
tannic. What you don’t want, like a bitter wine — you don’t want tannins.