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Author Notes: The complex flavors, mild sweetness, and subtle building heat of this chile sauce are owing to the varieties of chiles used. This recipe can and should be used with any and all varieties of dried chiles. The chiles are toasted, and soaked after being processed. After a warm bath the little peppers are pulsed into a fine paste with other aromatics before being reduced into the fragrant and delicious final product. The fresh bite of lightly cooked garlic and red onion give this sauce a surprising bright quality. It stores great in the freezer, so double up the recipe and break out the ice cube trays.
Towards the end of every year -after Christmas- a few of my closest friends and I gather for what we call Gourmet Taco Christmas. Family and stress are banned at this boozy feast, where we eat delicious Mexican and South American foods made completely from scratch. Nothing is pre-packed or canned (except perhaps the olives) we even make our own flour tortillas. With lard. The way God intended.
I make up a batch of this stuff about a week beforehand and we find use for it in nearly everything we make on this day of celebration and relaxation where we cook, and exalt in the best part of the Christmas season: it's end.
Serious words of warning:
It doesn't matter how slick you are with peppers. I, too, can dice up quite a few fresh peppers without making the horrible mistake that a person only discovers when they rub their eye just after dinner. Dried chiles are a wholly different monster. They are oily, they flake, they are, frankly, quite dangerous. Don't make me say I told you so, and get yourself a box of vinyl gloves from the local pharmacy for about 10 bucks.
What's more, (even though we should always taste while cooking) the ONLY way to know if you're getting this right is to taste as you go. That being said, you should prepare yourself for ingesting a lot of spicy spicy stuff. Some people use milk. I'm a firm believer that milk sold at supermarkets is poison. So I stick with actual poison and go with a bold red like Malbec or Pinot. It doesn't really kill the spice, it just makes me not care. —Michael
Makes 2-3 cups
- 5 Dried Ancho Chiles
- 5 Dried New Mexican Chiles
- 5 Dried California Chiles
- 1/2 Medium Red Onion, rough chop
- 4 Cloves Garlic, bruised
- 1/4 cup Poultry or Vegetable Stock
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Juice of One Lemon
- Juice of Two Limes
- 3 tablespoons Salt
- 3 tablespoons Fresh Ground Pepper
- 1 dash Spanish Paprika
- 1 dash Cumin
- 1 dash Fresh Ground Coriander
- 1 teaspoon Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
- Break out a fresh cutting board and arrange two large mixing bowls, a colander and a small ramekin near it. Choose a colander that fits snugly in the mixing bowl and can hold all of the chiles at once. Mise en place is fairly important for this process, as you'll see at the end. Just don't open the chiles until step two.
- Set enough water to cover the chiles to boil on a back burner. Glove up! Now you can open the chiles. Tap each of the chiles on their ends to make the seeds fall away from the stem, and cut away the stem. Empty the seeds into the ramekin and slice the chile lengthwise down it's side opening it up. Discard any remaining seeds and the white ribs. Slice lengthwise down the other side of the chile, creating two flat pieces. Repeat.
- After all of the chiles have been processed, on a skillet over high heat toast each of the chiles in small batches. Don't crowd the chiles! Slight blistering of the skin side, and slight browning of the flesh side is all we're going for and it happens in seconds. In other words- don't walk away from this. If they get overcooked they'll be bitter. Take the water off the heat to cool. Place toasted chiles in colander as they're done.
- After everyone is nice and toasted, cover the chiles in the hot - not boiling- water for twenty to forty minutes. But, don't sit down, or remove your gloves.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and add a little olive oil to the skillet. Saute the onion until just translucent. Add the garlic and reduce the heat. Let this go just until the garlic is fragrant. You're not trying to cook the vegetables, you're just trying to scare them.
- Pulse the garlic, onion, lemon and lime juices, vinegar, paprika, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper together in a food processor or blender until a very fine, almost liquid consistency is achieved. Thin with water if you have to, but don't use the soaking liquid from the peppers. Reserve one quarter of this mixture.
- Your gloves should still be on when you discard the soaking water and gently press the water out of the chiles. After a rough chop, toss them with salt and cover the colander with plastic wrap. Set a mixing bowl on top of the covered chiles and allow to drain for ten minutes.
- Unless you have a giant food processor, work in batches pureeing the drained chiles into a thick paste. Combine everything in a mixing bowl as it comes out of the processor. Tasting the sauce now you'll discover that it's either bland, or bitter, or perhaps too sweet. Don't worry, you have not erred. And, you still can't sit down or take off the gloves.
- What you have now needs to be reduced over very low heat. Slowly. Put the quarter cup of stock in the pan and stir in the sauce. Keep stirring, keep tasting and you'll notice the heat and sweetness develop a real richness in the sauce. The longer you can let this go, the better developed your sauce will be. However, you can't very well reduce it to nothing and you don't want to burn it. Fifteen or twenty minutes should be fine.
- Remove from heat and add reserved mixture of aromatics for that final punch of brightness. Taste and add salt, citrus or vinegar to your liking. If you want more heat, grind some of the reserved seeds and add in small amounts. Now would be the time to press through a fine mesh sieve. I don't do that, but but if you want a really fine sauce, sieve away. Better yet: food mill.
- A jar or handy squeeze bottle is great for storing this stuff in the fridge and it keeps for weeks, tightly covered. If you made extra, spoon it into ice cube trays and you'll have it on hand for months. Add it to literally anything you want to give a little heat. Sauces, salsas, soups, dressings, marinades, breads, whatever. Oh, but don't take your gloves off yet.
- Wash everything you touched with warm soapy water, or put it straight into the dishwasher. Don't forget cabinet and drawer pulls, refrigerator doors, spice containers, olive oil bottles, and so on and so forth. Remember what I said about Mise en place?