Sunday, May 22, 2011

Guajillo adobo sauce

I enjoy working with dried chile pods, especially Guajillo chiles. They add a wonderful layer of flavor to chili con carne and other dishes that you can't get from chili powder.

The process to turn the dried chile pod into a rich sauce is straight-forward. To use, you must first extract the flavor and form it into a rich guajillo chile adobo.

I know the process described below creates a bit more work. But the end result is well worth the extra effort. Your taste buds will appreciate the effort.

A Mexican adobo sauce is a "dark-red, rather piquant sauce (or paste) ... made from ground chiles, herbs and vinegar," according to the third edition of the Food Lover's Companion. Don't contuse this sauce with Filipino adobo, which has a much different flavor profile.

Use this three-step process to draw the rich flavor out of dried guajillo chile pods:

STEP 1 -- Toast and re-hydrate

For 3 cups guajillo chile adobe, toast around 16 guajillo chile pods (4 ounces by weight) in a cast iron skillet over low to medium heat, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Lightly toast chile pods, being careful not to burn.

When cooled to handle, snip stem off and shake out loose seeds. Don’t worry about seeds that end up in the sauce. They're an important part of the flavor profile. Place toasted chile pods in a bowl and cover with hot water. Soak 20 minutes to soften pods. Discard water.

STEP 2 -- Puree and strain

Add soaked chile pods to blender bowl with 1-cup hot water, 3 garlic cloves, 1-teaspoon cumin and 1/2-teaspoon ground black pepper. Puree into a smooth paste.

(Optional step.) Pour puree into a fine strainer set over medium-sized bowl. With the back of a wood spoon, push chile paste through the strainer, extracting every bit of flavor from the paste. Discard mash.

STEP 3 -- Cook and flavor

At this stage, the raw, underdeveloped flavor of chile paste will repel even the most ardent lover of Mexican cuisine. While the adobo can be used where it'll be cooked further, cooking it smooths the rough edges.

Wear an apron for this step. The sauce will sputter, splatter and complain.

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour in chili paste (strained or unstrained) and cook until raw chili taste is gone. Reduce heat to a simmer. Whisk in 3 cups chicken chicken stock and cook to reduce to desired strength.

That's it. The question now is, where do you go from here? At work, I use the guajillo adobo for two main applications. First, I add it to a 1-1/2-gallon pot of chili con carne. Start with around cups sauce and add more to suit the taste buds of your crew. I also prepare several spicy guajillo gravies or sauces.

The red chile sauce can be used to dress enchiladas or flavor vegetarian or meat taco. Rick Bayless (Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen, Scribner, 1996) recommends marinating New York strip or sirloin steaks in the sauce (1-part vinegar nixed with 3-parts sauce), then grilled over a hot fire with thick onion rings.

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