Chile Portrait: Mulato Chiles

Think chiles and what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Heat, right? We’re talking tongue-tingling, throat-scorching, mind-blowing hot. All you’ve got to do is check out a chile eating contest and you can see that when it comes to heat, there’s no pain, no gain. As we speak, growers around the world are busy coming up with new chile varieties that push the bounds of the Scoville index and promise us new ways to incinerate our taste buds.

FIG JAM 1

But guess what? It’s not all about heat. Sure, heat is great but the flavor you get from a chile is much more complex than that. Don’t believe me? Just take a great dried chile and give it a whiff. Depending on the variety you’ll pick up hints of berry, dried fruit, even chocolate. And a really good chile has a complexity that keeps you coming back for more.

Take the Mulato chile. It hails from Mexico and is a dried Poblano. Ancho is a dried Poblano too, but the they come from different varieties. Mulato is a bit smokier than an Ancho with hints of cherry and tobacco. Along with it’s bro Ancho, and the Pasilla, it makes up the ‘Holy Trinity’ of chiles used to create a killer mole.

Not too shabby is it? The Mulato is about 2-3” wide across the shoulders and 4-5” long with a medium thick skin. It’s darker than the Ancho – a dark brown almost black color. You’ll find it used in soups, stews and sauces. Is it super spicy? Is it going to tip the Scoville scale? Heck no. But it gives food a lovely warmth and depth – a heat that doesn’t whack you upside the head but instead wants to cuddle on the couch.

And be honest, we could all use a cuddle couldn’t we?

FIG JAM 4Chile Fig Jam

This is super-duper easy and most definitely delicious. I’ve used pre-soaked figs (for no other reason than that’s what my store had on hand) but regular dried figs are absolutely fine. I used Smyrna figs from Turkey but Black Mission figs would be yummy too.

8 ounces dried fig, stems removed
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Mulato chile, whole dried
Pinch of salt

Place the water, sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt and chile in a saucepan. If you’re using dried figs add them now as well – if you’re using pre-soaked hold off. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and cook until the chile and figs (if you’ve added) are soft but not mushy – about 8-10 minutes. If you’re using pre-soaked figs, add them in after about 7-8 minutes, once the chile has softened then cook for another few minutes.

FIG JAM 2

FIG JAM 3The liquid should be slightly thickened. Remove from the heat. When the chile is cool enough to handle, remove the stem but leave the seeds. Strain the entire mixture and place the figs and chile in the small bowl of a food processor. Puree, adding enough of the liquid to form a rough paste. You can adjust the amount of liquid to suit your taste. If you have any of the liquid left, you can further reduce it and drizzle over ice cream or yogurt.

Place the jam in a clean jar and serve with bread or pecorino cheese. Refrigerate. Will keep for about a week.

FIG JAM 5

FIG JAM 6

Chile Portrait: Guajillo

You could splash out on a gym membership. Or you could buy a mortar and pestle and bash the living daylights out of a couple of Guajillo chiles for our Mojo Rojo. The difference? The mortar and pestle is a lot cheaper and you end up with a tasty condiment that you can slather on everything (almost). But the biceps, well they’ll be pretty much the same.

GUAJILLO 1

Guajillos (pronounced gwah-HEE-yoh) have tough skins. If you’re soaking them (which I recommend) do it for a bit longer than you would say, a New Mexico red. They’re about 4-6 inches long and reddish-brown in color. They’re super popular in Mexico – one of the most commonly grown – and used for soups, stews, adobos, salsas – you name it. But back home, they’re not as well known which is a shame, since the Guajillo is a real culinary workhorse.

A Guajillo has some heat but not tongue-numbingly so. On the Scoville index it sits below the jalapeno. Take out the seeds to reduce the heat or – as I’ve done with the Mojo Rojo – leave them in. Because the skin it tough, it’s hard to end up with a smooth paste but that’s not a bad thing. The Guajillo packs a lot of flavor – beyond mere heat –that you can pick up when your salsa or sauce or rub is chunkier. Mark Miller in his book, The Great Chile Book, describes a Guajillo as having a, “…green tea and stemmy flavor with berry tones.” Sounds good to me.

As always with dried, whole chiles look for ones that are still pliable. You may think that a dried chile should be stiff but that’s not true at all. It should give a bit when you bend it and never smell musty. Give it a sniff and enjoy those lovely warm, fruity aromas.

GUAJILLO 3

And a word of advice. If you are using a mortar and pestle, try to alternate between your left and right hands. Otherwise you could end up with the Popeye bicep look. Just a thought…

Mojo Rojo

Makes about ½- ¾ cup (recipe can be doubled)

Yes, you can make this in the small bowl of a food processor or a blender (wimp). But then you’ll miss out on the pure physical pleasure of pounding a Guajillo chile into oblivion. Your choice.

2 Guajillo chiles
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced in half
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 ½ tsp sweet pimenton (Spanish smoked paprika)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp red wine or sherry vinegar

Heat a frying pan on medium-high heat. Add the whole chiles and toast gently on all sides. The idea is to bring out the flavor of the chiles but do not scorch or burn them. If you do, start over. You can toss the cumin seeds in to – it will bring out the flavor beautifully. Place the toasted chiles in a bowl and cover with hot but not boiling water. Let soak in the water for about 15-20 minutes until pliable.

GUAJILLO 2

Meanwhile, place the garlic, sea salt and toasted cumin seeds in the base of a mortar (or use a food processor or blender). Beat with the pestle until a rough paste is formed. Drain the chiles, remove the stem and roughly chop. Add to the mortar and pound until the chile is broken down into small bits. You are not going for a smooth paste – you’ll end up with seeds and chile pieces. Mix in the sweet pimenton, olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt if needed.

GUAJILLO 4

Mojo Rojo is great with:
• Green beans or other blanched green vegetables
• Boiled new potatoes
• Butternut squash or sweet potatoes
• Steak, chicken or pork tenderloin
• Spread on bread or as a thick dip for raw veg

GUAJILLO 5

Chile Portrait: Ancho Chile

If a Chipotle chile is a can-can dancer—all showy, high kicks, look at me pleeeeze – then Ancho is the quiet man sitting in the corner, nursing a glass of absinthe and smoking a gauloise. You may not notice him at first but trust me, he’s worth a second look. While Chipotle has in-your-face smokiness and Habanero has enough heat to knock your socks off, Ancho has something altogether more subtle but equally appealing.

Let’s start with the basics. Ancho means ‘wide’ and the Ancho starts broad at the top then gently tapers to the bottom—kind of a heart shape. Fresh it’s called Poblano (it’s the chile used in dishes such as chile rellenos). Once a Poblano is dried, it gets the name change and has a deeper dark red – almost black – color and a mild, fruity flavor.

How mild? Okay, let’s talk Scoville. Scoville is a method of measuring chile heat. Developed by a man named Wilbur Scoville back in 1912, it originally used human tasters to measure the heat in a chile (imagine that job). Now we have a high-tech method called High Performance Liquid Chromatography that precisely measures the amount of capsaicin in chile.

ANCHO CHILE GOAT CHEESE

Capsaicin is what gives chile heat. Ancho measures about 1,000-1,500 on the Scoville scale. To give you an idea of what that means, a Jalapeno is around 2,500-5,000 and a Scotch bonnet or Habanero is 100,000–350,000+.

But enough science. Just because an Ancho is milder, doesn’t mean it’s a culinary wimp. Far from it. Ancho offers a depth of flavor that is quite amazing. And Ancho is a great team player – pair it with other chiles and it truly shines. That’s why it’s one of the stars of mole – a sauce that comes from Mexico originally. (Actually, there are lots of different moles but many feature Ancho as a key ingredient. The Santa Fe School of Cooking has a great recipe for Roast Pork Loin with Red Chile Peanut Mole and even runs a mole class – one is scheduled in April.)

What else to do with Ancho? The dried pods can be toasted on a dry frying pan, rehydrated with hot water and made into an awesome chile paste that gives a bit of heat—but not too much—and a lovely, warm reddish hue to a dish. Or if you’re feeling a bit Martha, make a jar of our (soon to be) famous Ancho Chile Goat’s Cheese.

And as ever, if you’ve got a recipe with Ancho—or any other chile—send it our way. We’d love to give it pride of place on The Chile Trail.

ANCHO CHILE GOAT CHEESE 2

Ancho Chile Goat’s Cheese

Goat’s cheese + olive oil + ancho chile. It’s quick, it’s simple and boy does it taste good. The key is to let the goat’s cheese marinade in the oil for a day or two so the flavors really develop. But let’s face it – life is short so please feel free to eat immediately. Slather it on a crusty baguette, crumble it onto roasted veg or place a disc on a grilled chicken breast.

6-8 discs of soft goat’s cheese, cut from a log or buy pre-sliced
1 ½ – 1 ¾ cups Olive oil
2-3 Tbsp Ancho chile powder
1 Ancho chile pod, washed and patted dry
1 Chipotle chile pod, washed and patted dry
1 Bay leaf

Take a small, scrupulously clean jar (a 1 pint capacity Kilner or Le Parfait jar is a great choice and looks nice too). Fill it ¾ of the way with olive oil. Place the ancho chile powder on a small plate. Place a disc of goat’s cheese in the ancho chile so it’s lightly coated with chile powder. Flip and repeat on the other side. Gently, place the disc into the jar filled with olive oil. Repeat with the remaining discs. Place the two chile pods and the bay leaf in the jar and top up with olive oil, if needed, so all the ingredients are covered in oil. Close and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Christmas Chile—Red and/or Green?

In New Mexico we’re not that interested in what you do for work. Or if you’re married, single, all-of-the-above, none-of-the-above, or other. The question we’re burning to ask is: Red? Green? Or Christmas? It’s a question that makes for some fiery – excuse the phrase – debates around the dinner table.

Some peacemakers will say there’s no right or wrong answer. There are folks who like red chile, folks who like green and heck, some people like Christmas – a bit of both.


But not everyone is so kumbaya calm. You hear grumblings. They’ll say that people who like Christmas can’t make up their minds. They dither. Vacillate. They’re fence sitters. Others think that Christmas lovers are just gluttons. They want it all and now. They can’t imagine making it through one meal without red and green – so they get ‘em both.

But in this Christmas season is there perhaps a kinder, gentler way to look at the great chile question? I turned to all-knowing, all-consuming Chef Johnny Vee to get his take. “I love that we associate red and green with Christmas so it’s a perfect fit for our state question…Red or Green?”

But surely there’s a right answer and a wrong answer, isn’t there? “I’m like Santa,” said Chef Johnny, who come to think of it does bear an incredible likeness to St. Nick. “I love both especially at this time a year…not on everything but snuck in here and there…warms us up in winter!”

Have you got a favorite? Let us know. In the meantime, remember that blessed are the peacemakers, so here’s a handy recipe for Christmas Chile Corn Bread.

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS
Christmas Chile Cornbread

This is good – very good. Great with a bowl of soup or hearty stew. Yummy alongside a plate of scrambled eggs and it makes a mean stuffing. This is pretty mild but with a bit of a kick. Just ramp up the salsa mix if you want something spicier.

CORNBREAD

Makes about 10-12 servings

½ cup unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
2 eggs
½ cup sour cream or crème fraiche
1 ¾ cup whole milk
½ Tbsp Los Chileros Christmas Salsa Mix (or more to taste)
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp baking powder
¼ cup corn, canned or frozen
¼ pine nuts (optional but very tasty)
1 cup shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F and grease an 8×12” baking dish.

Pour the milk into a measuring cup and add the Christmas salsa mix, giving it a good stir. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter and sugar together then add the eggs and sour cream or crème fraiche and mix until well blended. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder together then stir in the corn meal. Add the milk and dry ingredients to the butter/sugar/egg/sour cream mix, alternating between dry and milk. Mix in the corn, nuts and cheese.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool before serving if you can bear to wait.

CHRISTMAS LIGHTS

Chile Portrait: Chipotle

EVER WONDER WHO ATE THE FIRST LOBSTER?

Or who figured out how to make flour? Or – hats off – the person who decided that pressing olives might be a good idea? Well, add to that list of unsung culinary heroes whoever decided to smoke and dry a jalapeño chile pepper.

Because the result is the chipotle chile. The word chipotle comes from the Nahuatl word chilpoctli and translates into chile + smoke. It’s been the method for preserving thick-skinned jalapeños in Mexico for who knows how long. Sure, it’s a practical way of preserving them but it’s a lot more than that – it’s a way to transform the flavor that is nothing short of magical.

To get a better idea of what makes a chipotle so special we spoke to Edward Ogaz of Seco Spices. Edward’s family has been farming in Hatch, New Mexico for three generations and he and his wife have owned Seco since the late ‘90’s.

Edward is incredibly passionate about all things chile but he really lights up when he talks about chipotle. “We let the jalapeños ripen on the vine until they’re red. Then we pick them, clean them and lay them out on large mesh racks. Then we smoke them with wood smoke – we like mesquite or sometimes oak.”

We asked if he smokes the jalapeño first or dries it. The answer? Both. The jalapeño is smoked and dried at the same time. In all it takes between 12 to 18 hours of slow delicate smoking and drying. During that time, the chile loses moisture and the color depends to a deep burgundy almost black color. The flavor intensifies too, as it takes on a distinctive smokiness. You’ll read comparisons to dried fruit, chocolate with hints of sweetness. We just think it tastes awesome.

“If you’ve got, say, 6 or 7 pounds of jalapeño to start off with, you’ll end up with only about 1 pound of chipotle at the end,” says Edward. It’s a seriously labor intensive process but Edward won’t cut corners. “You’ll find chipotle out there now where they’ve injected it with smoke flavoring but it’s nothing like the real thing.”

So what do you do with this wrinkly guy? You’ll find chipotle available in powder, whole chiles, or canned in adobo sauce (a piquant sauce made with tomatoes and vinegar). Chipotle is great in salsas, stews, and soups. You can also make a mean barbeque sauce with chipotle. It’s lovely made into a glaze with butter and sugar for toasted nuts.

Chipotle’s got some heat but it’s not OTT and the complexity of the chile flavor married with the smokiness is out of this world. Who knew that something so wrinkled could be so lip-your-lips gorgeous?

CHIPOTLE CHILE MAC ‘N’ CHEESE

Let’s face it, the world would be a kinder, gentler place if everyone ate more Mac ‘n Cheese.  It’s a happy food that just makes you feel so gosh darn good. Now the good is great thanks to a dash (or two) of chipotle chile powder. The chipotle gives it a smoky lusciousness that is sublime. Do not blame us if you eat it all yourself.

Serves 3-4

½ pound penne pasta
2 cups milk
3 tbsp unsalted butter
3 tbsp unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ tsp Chipotle Chile Powder, or more to taste
Salt to taste
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Breadcrumbs:
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small clove garlic finely chopped
¼ tsp Chipotle Chile Powder, or more to taste
1 cup coarse bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

To make the breadcrumbs, heat the butter and olive oil in a skillet over moderate heat. Add the garlic, chipotle chile powder and breadcrumbs, stirring until the crumbs are golden brown. Season lightly with salt and set aside.

For the pasta, add the penne to a pot of salted, boiling water. While the pasta is cooking make your cheese sauce.  Heat the milk in a pan on the stove or in the microwave until it is hot but not boiling. Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the flour and whisk over low heat for 2 minutes. Do not brown or burn the flour. Add the milk slowly to the flour and butter mixture, stirring with a whisk and ensuring no lumps form. Add the chipotle chile powder, season with salt, and continue to cook, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens, about 4-5 minutes. Add the grated cheese and stir to melt. Drain the penne – do not overcook, it should be al dente. Combine the penne with the cheese sauce and ensure the pasta is well coated.

Butter a flameproof baking dish and fill it with the penne and sauce.  Top with the breadcrumbs and bake in the oven until hot, about 20-25 minutes.

Chile Portrait: Green Chiles

I have a recurring dream – ok, nightmare. In my ‘dream’, I wake up to a world that is devoid of all meaning…a world in which all that is good is gone…a world in which I no longer have the will to carry on. Yes…you got it. A world without green chile. I told you it was bad, didn’t I? When this happens, I dash to the kitchen, throw open the cabinets and reassure myself that It’s OK. We still have green chile..

This isn’t just my bad dream. It’s the bad dream of about 99.9% of the people in New Mexico. And let’s face it, you don’t want to know the other .1% The reason? We’re mad about chile. Over the top, crazy like a coyote, mad.

We’ve been growing chile for hundreds of years and it’s our top agricultural crop (cue, inspirational music and fluttering of state flags). Now don’t get me wrong. There are lots of chiles out there that are green (think green jalapenos, poblanos – you get the idea). But in New Mexico, when we say green chile, we mean the stuff we grow right here, either in Northern New Mexico or down south around Hatch.

And every August our hearts start to flutter when we see the first chile roasters pop up along every roadside, parking lot, farmer’s market and backyard around.

The place goes bonkers. The black wire cages fed by propane start turning and we stand there mesmerized. It’s the smell. It’s impossible to describe how intoxicating it is. And all the more so because we know it won’t last.

What’s the difference between green and red chile? Time (and taste). Green chile is harvested when it’s ‘unripe’ (which sounds a bit mean like someone introducing you as so-and-so’s younger brother or sister). But the point is that if green chile is left on the plant, it will turn red and develop a different flavor. Now that’s not a bad thing because red chile is fabulous. But it does mean that for a short window of time, New Mexico’s farmers are harvesting this year’s green chile crop, then it’s over until next year.

Luckily, roasted green chile dries like a dream (this time a good dream). All you have to do is rehydrate it and it’s back in business. You can even pick up that elusive chile roaster aroma. So go back to bed…even when the roasters have been stored away for another year, you can still get your green chile fix.

GREEN CHILE CROQUE MONSIEUR

You’ve got to hand it to the French. They take ham and cheese and give it a fancy-pants name like Croque Monsieur and suddenly it sounds all oh-la-la. But you know what? A Croque Monsieur is pretty incredible because it’s more than a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. The egg batter makes it puff up slightly, so it’s all crispy on the outside and yummy on the inside. And this version is even better because the green chile gives it a nice kick.

Serves 2, or one very hungry person.

1 large egg
1 ½ tbsp milk
¼ tsp Los Chileros Chile Molido Powder
Salt
4 slices of brioche or a nice white country loaf
Thinly sliced cheddar cheese – enough to cover four slices of bread
Sliced ham – enough to cover two slices of bread
Los Chileros New Mexico Green Chile Whole, rehydrated*
2 tbsp butter

Whisk the egg, milk, red chile powder and salt to season in a shallow bowl, large enough to comfortably fit the bread. Place 2 slices of bread on the counter. Top with a layer of cheese. Cover the cheese with strips of green chile, then the ham and finish off with another layer of cheese. Place another slice of bread on top and set aside. Repeat with the other two slices of bread so you have two sandwiches. Dip the sandwiches in the egg batter. Heat the butter in the skillet. When the butter has melted and is slightly sizzling (but not burning!) add the sandwiches and cook on both sides until nicely browned. Slice each sandwich in half and serve.

*You’ll probably have leftover green chile but what a great problem to have! Dice it up and toss it in chicken soup. Throw some on a tortilla with grilled veggies, a dollop of guacamole and crumbled goat’s cheese. Pop it on a burger. Puree it and make a sauce. What are you waiting for? Get going!