Monday, February 22, 2010

New Mexican Red Chile Sauce: A Tutorial

I was having a brain cramp trying to think of a post this week.  I was going to post about the magnificent Santa Fe Playhouse's annual one-act play extravaganza called "Benchwarmers" (which I still might do later this week), but the crazy snow we got today set my sights inward.  After taking the dogs out for a trek through the snow-packed arroyo - complete with gators and ski goggles to keep out the driving snow - I was starving and cold.  This is the best time to indulge in red chile.

Red chile comes from the dried red pods of the Hatch chile pepper.  Same pepper, different stages of ripeness.  Also, just because the peppers are red does not mean they are hotter.  Green chile peppers can be just as spicy- if not spicier- than red chile peppers.  It depends on the bushel.
A photo of fresh chiles that I stole off the internet.
The red ones are more ripe than the green and are dried and turned into ristras like so:
A photo of a ristra that I stole off the internet.
Anyway, I know I am rambling about a boring topic.  So let's cut to the chase.  How do you turn red chile pods into red chile sauce, the delectable New Mexican delicacy?  E-z p-z.

First, buy some ground red chile. If you are a red chile purist, you might do some crazy thing where you soak whole pods in water and grind the husks with a food mill.  While I am sure that method has many merits, using pre-ground chile works very well and is a lot faster, too.  You can find red chile in the "New Mexico" aisle of your grocery store, or, if you don't have a New Mexico aisle, email a friend in New Mexico and she will mail you some.

I forgot to take a photo of my red chile (I got it at the farmer's market, so there's no label anyway) but here's an example photo I found on the internet:

Step one: Finely chop 1/2 of a yellow onion.  Put a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium- to large-sized saucepan.  Heat the oil, add the onions.

Fry the onions until translucent or slightly browned.

Step 2: Add about a tablespoon of minced garlic.  Yeah, I use the pre-chopped stuff in a jar.  Don't judge me.

Now, this is important, continue to fry but not more than 1 minute.  You just want to get the garlic fragrant.  Garlic also burns really, really easily so don't push it.

At this stage, you should add about another tablespoon of olive oil, so it looks like this:

I probably should have said at the beginning that making red chile sauce requires a lot of oil. Don't freak out.  It's good for your soul.

Step 3: This is the only slightly tricky part.  You need to add flour to make a roux.  Put in about 2 1/2 tablespoons of regular, white flour.

And stir it in.
(Kev did this part so I could take a photo.  Then he admonished me for taking photos during the "most critical time" in the chile making process.  Apparently, he is very serious about his chile.  Sheesh!)

Step 4:  Add more oil so the roux isn't clumpy and can spread across the pan in a more or less even way.  I had to add another tablespoon or two but this is not exact.  Just eyeball it.  Nothing bad will happen.

Actually, I probably could have used a bit more oil here but whatever.  Kev was admonishing me, so I was distracted.  :)
Let the roux get toasty colored.  This is the same method used to make gumbo.

Step 5: Add water or broth  (I used chicken, but any flavor would be good except for maybe fish broth) while whisking.  Add about 1 1/2 cups and then allow it to heat up and thicken.  It will be quite thick, so keep adding until it reaches a white gravy consistency.  I added about 3 cups of chicken broth all told.  This part is really up to you and how thick you like your chile.   

Step 6:  Add the red chile powder and whisk it in.  I used 1/2 - 3/4 cup.

The rule of thumb is to add enough to give it a nice, red color like above.  After I added the red chile, I ended up adding a wee bit more chicken broth to keep it a thick-but-not-too-thick consistency.

Allow it to come to temp, add a dash of salt to taste, and you're done!

Spoon a generous amount on top of your burrito, like so:

This was a refried bean burrito with cheddar cheese and chopped green chile rolled into a whole wheat flour tortilla.  I used whole wheat tortillas to pretend I was eating heath food.
You can add some additional shredded cheese on top and then nuke it to melt it, or place it in your oven.  I gobbled this down and practically broke out into a sweat this chile was so hot.  That's because we only buy the hot chile.  That's how we roll here.  Chile powder is sold in varying degrees, from mild to extra hot.  If you find your smothered burrito is too spicy, a dollop of sour cream will help cut the heat.


Red chile sauce is a great- and should be from now on- substitute for that hideous jarred "enchilada sauce" that I see for sale at grocery stores.  Put down the enchilada sauce jar.  Make this. You will thank me.

I will also add in the interest of full disclosure, that this was the FIRST TIME I had ever made red chile.  Kev is the resident chile sauce maker here.  It was easy as pie.  I promise.  

Now I must return to my Olympics watching. BODE!

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