Every pantry needs a few varieties of dried chillies. If you have a decent stash, you need little more than to add them to some hot water in a blender to whip up a rich, flavorful sauce at a moment’s notice. The only drawback is dealing with the skins, which never break down no matter how long you soak them — meaning you have to strain them out. Or do you?
To my complete and utter delight, I recently learned the whole straining process is unnecessary. You can simply peel soaked dried chillies just like you would fresh ones that have been charred or roasted. It’s not quite as easy as peeling a fresh pepper — the rehydrated skin is slippery and fragile, so it’s hard to remove in one satisfying piece — but it’s really not that bad. Just gently scrape the softened flesh off with a spoon or carefully pull the skin off with your fingers. (I find that sliding a finger under the skin helps loosen it over a wider area, which speeds the process up considerably.) It takes some effort, but you’ll be rewarded with a pile of perfectly softened, skinless chiles, ready to spice up any recipe.
There are a couple of benefits to peeling chillies instead of puréeing and straining. Both methods obviously serve the same purpose: Keeping the fibrous skin out of sauces and salsas so they turn out silky-smooth. Peeling just removes it from the equation earlier, eliminating the need to force a thick, fibrous paste through a strainer, a task both annoying and fairly wasteful. Sure, you may not manage to perfectly separate every single last scrap of pepper flesh from the skins — but how much of the good stuff gets left behind in a clogged sieve? Even if the yields are pretty similar, which seems likely, I’d rather wash my hands than a mesh strainer.
This trick will work best with larger, milder dried chillies like anchos, guajillos, chipotles, cascabels, and chiles negros. Just remember that even relatively mild varieties can pack some heat, so if you’re extra sensitive to spice (or stained fingertips), put on a pair of gloves for protection. And whether or not you glove up, don’t bother trying to peel tiny, super-hot chillies — the payoff just isn’t worth the effort. You’re better off straining out those skins, or saving the spicy guys for recipes that benefit from a little extra texture.