The Chile Serrano (Serrano Pepper) is one of the most popular peppers used in Mexican cuisine. What follows is a profile of Serrano Peppers, where they came from, what they taste like, and how they are traditionally used. Finally, I’ll leave you with several wonderful Chiles Serranos recipes so you enjoy them as much as I do. Now, let’s talk peppers!
While I love creating new and exciting recipes, sometimes I enjoy just appreciating the ingredients themselves; they are, after all, God’s handiwork and should be appreciated. I begin with a brief history of this highly used and beloved pepper. I will move on from there to discuss their flavor profile and serrano pepper spice level. Finally, I will talk briefly about the variety of ways these peppers are traditionally used in Mexican cuisine, why I’m personally a huge fan of Chile Serrano, and some of the recipes I’ve used them in.
A brief note before we begin. You will notice that I use the words Chile Serrano, and Serrano Pepper interchangeably. The Spanish word Chile Serrano in English means Serrano Chili or Serrano Pepper. I like to use the word Chile Serrano out of reverence for the Mexican tradition which envelopes this discussion.
What Are Chiles Serranos (Serrano Peppers)?
Chiles Serranos are a thin spicy pepper which is the fruit produced by the Serrano plant. Serrano plants are bush-like and can reach heights of up to 4 feet. The Serrano Pepper, when unripe, is bright green in color. As they mature they take on a variety of colors ranging from green, red, orange, brown, and yellow. The Serrano plant flourishes in hot whether and grows all year round. While these peppers look similar to the jalapeno, they are less spicy, more slender, and smaller in general.
A Short History Of Chile Serrano
The Serrano Pepper is indigenous to the Mexican states of Hidalgo and Puebla and are grown in their mountainous regions. In fact, the word “serrano” means “mountain-dweller” or “highlander.” The jalapeno and serrano are the two most common types of chilis among 64 varieties of peppers produced in Mexico. Early history finds these peppers being preserved in pickling recipes like serrano en escabeche, “pickled serrano.” This is a classic recipe made of pickled chilis, carrots, and an assortment of other veggies. These peppers have been used in a variety of dishes throughout Mexican culinary history and are still widely popular today.
What Does Chile Serrano Taste Like?
If eaten by itself, this pepper has a bright and somewhat “grassy” flavor. However, because Chiles Serranos are fairly spicy, the flavor is somewhat muted by the heat they produce. The “vegetable” flavor of these peppers becomes less noticeable when they are roasted which produces a nice smoky flavor.
How Spicy Are Serrano Peppers?
How hot is a serrano pepper? Moderately hot is the short answer. However, I like to refer to the Scoville scale which is a measurement system that assigns heat levels to each type of pepper. Serrano pepper spice level can reach a maximum of 25,000 SHU (Scoville heat units) . This makes the serrano a little more than twice as hot as the jalapeno pepper (10,000 SHU) but slightly milder than Chile De Arbol(30,000 SHU). However, they are considerably less spicy than habanero peppers(350,000 SHU). If all of this talk of heat is making your palms sweat, not to worry, you can remove the serrano pepper seeds which will turn down the heat levels considerably.
Are Green Serranos Spicier Than Red?
Green, less ripe, Serrano Peppers are milder whereas a red color indicates an older, more mature, pepper which will be spicier.
Use Gloves When Handling Hot Peppers
Word of warning, when hot peppers are cut open both the peppers themselves and the seeds can irritate skin. If you have sensitive skin, or just don’t feel like enduring a burning sensation for several hours, wear gloves when preparing spicy chilis.
How To Use Serrano Peppers
Chile Serrano can be used in a variety of wonderful dishes. Below is a list of common recipes and uses for this popular chili!
- Salsa and sauce recipes. Used as a spicier substitute for jalapenos in salsas like Salsa Roja, Fire Roasted Salsa, Pico De Gallo With Avocado, and Avocado Sauce.
- Pickled Serrano Pepper. Chiles Serranos can be pickled along with vinegar, carrots, and other veggies; this is a classic recipe called serrano en escabeche.
- Chili oil. Chile Serrano can be placed in oil to create a wonderfully flavorful and spicy oil.
- Used in a variety of Mexican dishes. As long as the dish you are making doesn’t call for a specific pepper to be used based on traditional practices, you can use Serrano Chiles in pretty much any dish as either a substitute for jalapeno peppers or if you simply need to add a little heat. You can use them in Pozole Verde, Chipotle Sofritas, and my White Bean Chili.
- Dried serrano peppers. These peppers can also be dried and even ground up into a powder for sprinkling into dishes.
In general, Chiles Serranos are blended up with other ingredients, or chopped and added to dishes.
Why I Love Using Chiles Serranos
I am a major salsa and spicy foods guy so I fell hard for the Chile Serrano pretty much right away. In fact, I think it’s my brand of pepper. It’s not, for me at least, overly hot but it has the perfect amount of kick for most of my recipes. I also love the way it tastes; unlike the jalapeno pepper or bell peppers which have a very earthy “plant” flavor, the Serrano Pepper flavor is pretty much disguised immediately by the heat it produces.
Recipes Using Serrano Peppers
Best Serrano Pepper Substitutes
If you’re looking for a pepper with less heat but similar flavor, then the jalapeno is your best bet. However, if you’re looking for something hotter with similar flavor composition, this becomes slightly more difficult because the next jump up the Scoville Scale is the Chile De Arbol which is mostly sold in dried form. You could use a habanero pepper but be warned because it’s about 14 times hotter than the serrano. Thus, it would likely be best to simply add more Serrano Pepper to whatever dish you are making than to look for a spicier substitute comparable in flavor.
Where To Buy Chiles Serranos
Because these peppers are one of the top two peppers most commonly used, they are easily found in most grocery stores. You will likely find them in the fresh produce section alongside other peppers like the jalapeno and bell pepper. When buying Chile Serrano, feel them to make sure they are plump but firm.
Is Chile Serrano Healthy?
Yes, Chiles Serranos are loaded with vitamin C, B6, and potassium. Additionally, chili peppers in general contain a plant compound called capsaicin which is a natural pain reliever and can be used to reduce the symptoms of heartburn. Some studies also demonstrate that capsaicin is beneficial for weight management. (1)(2)(3)
Serrano Peppers should be stored in the refrigerator where they will keep for up to a week.
Serrano Peppers (Chile Serrano) have been used throughout the vast reaches of Mexican culinary history. They are a slender green pepper which is considerably hotter than the jalapeno. They can be used in a variety of recipes from salsas, sauces, soups, and Mexican dishes in general. Finally, these little peppers are healthy and easy to find at your local grocery store!