Mexican Red Chili Sauce
Red chili sauces are used in many Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes, such as red chile enchiladas or tamales. On doing research for this post I found references to many different ways of making red chile sauce; in Mexico alone there are as many ways to prepare this sauce as there are varieties of chilies, and even more when you take into account the regional twists. The following is a recipe for a basic red chili sauce, made with Ancho chilies (called by some Pasilla chiles – see notes). The basic technique was taught to me by my Mexican friend, Arturo Vargas, and helped along with notes from Diana Kennedy’s From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients.
Why make your own sauce? Making your own chile sauce is not much different than making your own spaghetti sauce. If you have the time, it’s worth doing. In addition to creating a sauce with fantastic taste, dried chilies are inexpensive and easy to store. If you are making up a large batch of tamales, enchiladas, or chili beans you will likely need a lot of sauce, and if you make your own, you can easily make as much sauce as you need. Do you have a favorite recipe for Mexican or Tex-Mex chili sauce? If so, please let us know in the comments.
- 3 dried Ancho (sometimes called pasilla in the US*) chiles OR 2 Ancho and 2 Guajillo chiles
- 1 large clove garlic
- 2 whole cloves, crushed
- 2 black peppercorns, crushed
- 1/2 teaspoon of salt, more to taste
- Olive oil
* According to Diana Kennedy, Pasilla chilies are a long and skinny variety of chile, while Ancho chilies (dried poblanos) are shorter and wider. However, in certain parts of Mexico, the Ancho chile is called Pasilla, and because of immigration, is commonly known as Pasilla in many parts of the US.
1 Working on one chile at a time, use a paring knife to cut a slit all the way down one side of a chile. Open up the chile and remove the stem and seeds. Remove as much of the veins as you can. Reserve a few of the seeds or veins for adding later if you want added heat. Note when working with chilies, either wear protective gloves or wash your hands very thoroughly with soap and warm water after handling the chilies. Do not touch or rub your eyes if you have been handling chili peppers.
2 Heat a large skillet on medium heat. Flatten out the dried chilies as well as you can and place on the skillet to heat. Press down on the opened chilies and leave for a few seconds. Turn the chilies over and heat a few seconds more. You do not want to toast or burn the chilies, just heat them enough to draw out more of the flavor.
3 Add the chilies to a small saucepan and add enough water so that they are just covered. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let sit for 10 minutes, until the chilies have softened and plumped up. (OR pour place the chilies in a small saucepan and pour boiling water over them to cover. Let sit for 15 minutes, until softened.)
4 Reserving the soaking water, remove the chilies from the pan and place in a blender. Add the garlic, salt, ground pepper, ground cloves, and 1 1/2 cups of the soaking liquid (taste the soaking water first, if it seems bitter, use water instead). Purée for 2 minutes, until the sauce is completely smooth. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. If you want more heat, add in a few of the seeds or veins and purée some more. Add more salt if needed.
5 Pour the sauce through a sieve into a skillet. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the sauce. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to maintain the simmer, cook for 10 minutes. Skim off the foam. Remove from heat. Use immediately or pour into a glass jar (plastic will get stained) and refrigerate.