Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What to do with those Dried Chilis???

How many times have you seen those big bags of dried chili in the market and passed them by without a thought, because after all, what do you do with them?

I have to admit that I've gone close to six decades of my life without giving this chili a lot of thought. To me, chili was pretty much something you bought in a can. When I would make "home made chili" I would use chili powder, but I've never been able to quite make the connection between those dried pods I see in the market and what I call chili.

Until I came to New Mexico.

While camp hosting at Manzano this last summer, our Ranger Harold taught me how to make chili, New Mexico style. There are as many different methods as there are cooks her in NM, but this was my first time, so I followed his instructions to a T.

His method involved soaking the dried chili in warm water (hot from the tap was what he used). You then let them soak for about 20 minutes, at which point they are somewhat hydrated but the skins still have a tough texture. Then you taker the chili and a bit of water and toss them in a blender till you have a paste (add liquid to keep a somewhat wet texture to the resulting paste).

Then you put the paste through a strainer, getting a somewhat thinner paste and discard what didn't make it through the strainer. The resulting liquid is then put in a pan with some flour, as much liquid as you feel necessary and some garlic powder. Simmer till combined and you have chili sauce New Mexico style.

You can use this to make enchiladas (and in New Mexico,you will always be asked flat or rolled when you order enchiladas. If you order flat, be sure to say yes to the egg on top). You can also use the sauce as a base for any variety of chili flavored dishes that you might like.

Since last summer, I've been playing with this method and I've refined it to what suits my purposes better.

I start with mild Pasilla Chilis. These have a good amount of spice and a mild heat. My favorite chili has a good spicy flavor and leaves your mouth with just a nice warm aftertaste, but never takes the top off your head or ruins your palate for other food.

I then cut the stems off the top of the chili and shake the seeds out and discard them. Then I chop the chili loosely and put it in a bowl. Now I take either water or broth (chicken, beef or vegetable, your choice) and bring it to a full rolling boil and pour it over the dried chili. Let this mixture set for twenty to thirty minutes, then strain the juice through a fairly large strainer, reserving what sits in the strainer.

Now if you're going to make something like Chili Colorado, which requires a long cooking time, just use this strained juice as your broth still reserving the remaining pulp. About thirty minutes before your dish is ready, take the resulting strained pulp and blend it with a bit of liquid and add it to your stew. By this time, you shouldn't have to strain and the resulting paste kicks the flavor up to the next level.

You can also use this method for enchiladas, a pork stew, or as a flavoring for side dishes like rice. Actually this sauce will also keep in the refrigerator for quite a while, and if you use your imagination, you'll find dozens of uses for your homemade chili sauce.

And it will be so much better than any you'll ever buy in the store.

So the next time you see a bag of that chili in the store, pick it up, put it in your cart and play around with them. You'll be pleasantly surprised.

I know I was!

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