For Better Steak Fajitas, Incorporate Sun-Dried Chile Powder

Jaws drop, eyes peer out over the tops of menus, and diners rethink their orders all because a sizzling plate of steak fajitas is taking the long way around the dining room. Strips of marinated beef spit and pop next to piles of caramelized onions and peppers in this fiery dish that seems equal parts showmanship and deliciousness. But, a lot of folks are intimidated to try steak fajitas at home, which is unfounded as this impressive Tex-Mex treat can easily be whipped up with a few simple ingredients. Often overshadowed, though, is the marinade or rub used to flavor the steak, a critical element to quality homemade steak fajitas. One item that goes a long way to transforming your marinade or rub is sun-dried chile powder.

It may seem like a small thing, but chile powder is a big driver of the classic Tex-Mex flavor profile. An important distinction to make right off the bat is that chile powder is not chili powder, the latter being a seasoning blend used to make the stew called chili con carne, which most Americans just call chili. Chile powder is specifically made only from chile peppers that have been dried and ground to a powder. As you can imagine, sun-dried chile powder harnesses the power of the sun for this part of the process as opposed to relying on a machine. The result is a sweeter and much less bitter seasoning that transforms steak fajitas.

Types of sun-dried chile powder

Sun-dried chile powder is typically made from Hatch chiles, which are a famous aspect of New Mexican cuisine. These green peppers — the mature fruit is red — are often roasted over an open flame and made into the state's famous green or red chile sauces used on everything from breakfast tacos to burgers. But for sun-dried chile powder, spice makers take advantage of the abundant and hot sun that shines across southern New Mexico. While Hatch chiles are a single type of pepper, there are varieties that range in heat level and flavor, and as such, sun-dried chile powders can be found from mild to pleasantly spicy. Steak fajitas are a forgiving dish, so feel free to use the sun-dried chile powder that appeals to you. And for those looking to exert even more control over the recipe, you can purchase whole dried Hatch chile pods and grind them at home with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Outside of Hatch chiles, there are other options for sun-dried chile powders. Probably one of the best known, and a major staple in Mexican cooking, is ancho chile. This is the dried version of the poblano pepper. It can be found as whole pods or pre-ground powder readily available in supermarkets and Mexican grocery stores. For a true sun-dried variety, though, you may have to go to an online spice purveyor. No matter which type of sun-dried chile powder you choose, savory steak fajitas are just a sizzle away.