Mythologically, they are associated with lighting bolts. Astrologically, they fall under the awesome powers of Mars, the god of war. On the human level, they strike fear into the palates of mankind. They are chipotles - jalapeno peppers that have been ripened to a red color and smoked until they are brown. They can be found dried, pickled and, most often, in the international section of a supermarket, canned in a spicy Mexican  sauce.

According to Dave DeWitt in his remarkably thorough book, The Chile Pepper Encyclopedia, the jalapeno pepper has always been the capsicum most often smoked. Its fleshy skin prevented it from becoming dried by the sun before rotting.   Consequently, taking a page from the curing of meat, it is believed that the ancients began smoking the peppers along side their meat. DeWitt believes that smoked chiles had their origins in the ancient civilization of Teotihuacán, north of the present day Mexico City. However, it was the Aztecs, with their particular affection for chiles, who coined the Spanish word, chipotle. It comes from the ancient Aztec contraction of chil, meaning hot pepper, and potle, derived from poctli meaning smoked.

Only in the last 20 years or so have Americans been exposed to the chipotle pepper. Up until the eighties, chili powder seemed to be the seasoning of choice if a cook wanted a hot Mexican -style flavor. Today, recipes using many different kinds of hot peppers are legend. Dried chipotles or chipotle in powder form continue to be difficult to locate. Ethnic groceries and specialty spice stores such as Penzeys spices at 197 Westport Avenue in Norwalk are the best sources. DeWitt suggests that if you grind your own chipotles, begin by drying them in the lowest possible oven heat "until they are so dry that you can snap them in half."  I find, however, the most useful and convenient way to buy them is in a can in an adobo sauce. Cut in strips, chopped or pureed, they give a flavorful smokey heat to anything to which they are added. Barbecue sauces, chili con carnes and Sloppy Joes come immediately to mind.  Pureed, they can be mixed with sour cream and mayonnaise to make a quick dip for vegetables. Or, try adding chopped chipotles to a twice baked potato with sour cream. Add a touch to a meat gravy, meat loaf, potato salad. They keep well in the refrigerator and are useful to have on hand for adding a last minute punch. In sum, when seasoning your food, think of chipotles as Tobasco with a smoky flavor.

The following is a sauce for beef tenderloin from Gourmet Magazine as offered on the Food Network. It could be used for pork, chicken or another cut of beef as well.

Chipotle Red Pepper Sauce
3 Cups thinly sliced red bell pepper (about three large peppers)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 canned chipotle pepper in adobo, unseeded
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

In a heavy skillet cook the bell peppers in the oil, covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally until they are soft. In a blender or food processor puree the mixture with the chipotle, the Worcestershire sauce, and salt to taste. The sauce may be made two days in advance and kept covered, chilled. Serve warm or at room temperature