(Also known as Mexican red chile sauce, or that tasty red sauce that makes enchiladas so good.)
I've been on a campaign to shed some unnecessary weight (so far I've dropped 10 lbs., thank you) and so have fallen into some rote cooking by way of keeping the calories down. One of my current standards is stuffed roasted poblano peppers, something I can throw together in about 15 minutes (if I have certain components on hand) and which lends itself well to improvisation and a need to use up leftovers. The notion came to me one evening when I (fortuitously) had on hand a number of roasted poblano peppers, some cooked Yellow Indian Woman beans from Rancho Gordo, and a small tub of red chile sauce that was hiding comfortably at the back of the fridge. I think I'd made the sauce to enhance a posole, then tucked it away knowing it would handily dress tamales or eggs or enchiladas in its future.
I won't go into the peppers per se, except to say that if you buy a pile of poblano peppers and roast them on your stove or grill or whatever, they keep well in the fridge and are handy for stuffing, or you can slice them into thin strips for making fajitas or omelettes, or add them anywhere a little smoky bite would be welcome. I like to sauté up some onion and garlic, then add whatever's around – leftover roast chicken, cooked barley, roasted winter squash – and stuff it into the whole roasted peppers. Laid in a casserole dish and napped with some chile sauce (and dotted with some kind of cheese if I'm feeling naughty), they transform into a soulful dinner in about 15 minutes in the oven.
But this is about the chile sauce. I ran out last week, so I whupped up a fresh batch. You can use just about any dried red chiles; I happened to have on hand some Anchos, Guajillos, New Mexicans, and good hot Pasillas de Oaxaca. In no particular ratio, I came up with 5 ounces of peppers.
5 oz. dried red chiles
3 c. very hot water
1/3 c. white wine vinegar (you could use red wine or cider vinegar)
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 t. ground cloves
3 large garlic cloves
The chiles should be toasted lightly before making the sauce, both to reduce some of their bitterness and to enhance their flavor. Cut them open with scissors or a sharp knife and remove the stem, seeds, and interior ribs. Toast them in a skillet (heated to medium-hot) just until the skin blisters slightly and they become fragrant. DO NOT blacken or burn them. At most, they should give up an occasional and light wisp of smoke.
Put the toasted chiles in a bowl and cover them with very hot water (use a small plate to weigh them down and keep them submerged). Let them soak for about half an hour, until they're nice and soft. Transfer the chiles and about half of the soaking liquid to a container suitable for puréeing in (like the pitcher of a blender or the bowl of a food processor...or just a tall plastic bucket, if you're using a stick blender as I do) and add the vinegar, seasonings and garlic.
Purée the mix until it's as smooth as you can get it, adding more (all, if necessary) of the soaking liquid. It should be thinner than you might think, almost runny – about the consistency of steak sauce. You can use it just like this, or strain it for a slightly more refined sauce. I strain mine through a fine-mesh chinois, helping it along by pumping a small steel ladle up and down inside the strainer.
The finished sauce will keep for several months in the fridge, though it might thicken to a paste from the pectin in the peppers. It thins out well with a little chicken stock or even water.
Use the sauce to accessorize anything that might like a little Mexican zing – poach chicken in it, dip tortillas for enchiladas, add it to soup. I like it on poached eggs, served on a bed of roasted pepper strips with lime juice and salt. A vague sprinkling of grated cheese (I keep good aged Vermont cheddar in the house at all times, but Monterey Jack or even real Mexican cheese would do in a pinch) makes it feel rich and sinful.