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March, 2010

Arizona Style Red Enchilada Sauce

By Heidi Allison

This regional favorite has a distinctly different flavor profile from the red chile sauces served up in Texas or New Mexico-- the earthy flavor of the mild, red New Mexico chile is intensified by reducing the number of ingredients and using specialized culinary techniques.

This red sauce flavors just about anything a lover of Southwestern cuisine loves to eat—enchiladas, tamales, huevos rancheros, steaks, chicken, beans and rice dishes. It also serves as the foundation of many soups, such as Pozole Rojo, a red chile stew simmered low-and-slow with pieces of lean pork and hominy. However, this regional favorite has a different flavor profile from the “red” served up in Texas or New Mexico. It lacks the acidity that tomatoes or cider vinegar provide, and is enhanced with the strong citrus/sage notes of Mexican oregano. What you taste is the mellow, soul-satisfying flavor of the mild, New Mexico red chile, complemented by the sweetness of caramelized onions and garlic, a hint of toasted, earthy cumin in a rich, homemade, gelatinous chicken broth.

To focus its flavor, this quintessential comfort food sauce reduces its ingredients and uses specialized culinary techniques to intensify the mild New Mexico red chile’s unique taste – an earthy flavor with tones of wild sage and cherry followed by a mellow heat. While other red sauce recipes simply rehydrate the dried pods in hot water before incorporating them into a dish, this recipe toasts the chiles in a moderate oven before reconstituting, which gently coaxes out a hidden dimension of flavor. Moreover, roasting the dried chile in an oven, rather than pan-toasting in a dry, cast-iron skillet, provides a safety net from burning the pods—pan-toasting can go south in seconds creating a bitter taste in the finished sauce. The important technique here is to keep an eye and nose on the pods while they are roasting—as soon as you see a darker color and smell a fragrance, they’re done.

Moreover, this versatile recipe will work for the kids, as well as their heat-seeking parents. If more heat is needed, just change out the mild New Mexico chiles for their hotter cousins. While this authentic red sauce is stellar in enchiladas, huevos rancheros, tamales, soups or poured over Mexican rice, it also works as a stand-out marinade for chicken and flat-iron steak.

Arizona Style Red Enchilada Sauce
Arizona Style Red Enchilada Sauce
Makes: 2.5 cups

10 whole dried Melissa’s New Mexico chiles
1 tsp. vegetable oil (canola or pure olive oil; avoid fruity extra virgin olive oils)
1 large, yellow onion, peeled
7 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. freshly crushed cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt
5 cups rich, homemade chicken stock
1 tsp. organic brown sugar (optional)
2 Tbsp. lard (or vegetable oil)

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 425°F. Pour 1 tsp. neutral vegetable oil over dried chiles and toss to coat. Place chiles in a shallow foil-lined pan and heat until lightly toasted and fragrant—about 30-60 seconds. Remove from oven and let cool. Pull the stems off the chiles and shake out the seeds; then cut into strips and set aside.

Cut onion in half and slice into ¼-inch rounds. Place on foil-lined tray with 7 cloves garlic and lightly toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil until onions separate into rounds and are coated. Sprinkle kosher salt over veggies and heat for 5 minutes, then gently toss with a fork and return to oven. Repeat this process twice, or until onions are soft and caramelized, about 15 minutes total. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Place 1 tsp. oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and toast cumin until fragrant; then set aside. Place chiles in a single layer in a large, shallow bowl. Heat ½ cup filtered water until just boiling and pour over roasted chiles; cover with a weight (slightly smaller inverted bowl or pot top to keep chiles submerged) until soft, about 20 minutes.

Place chile strips into a blender. Heat chicken stock and pour half (about 2.5 cups) over chiles. Cover with top (remove circular insert and cover hole with a clean kitchen towel) and blend on medium-high speed till puréed. Add remainder of chicken stock and blend again; then strain. Place strained chile mixture back into blender and add caramelized onions and garlic and purée until smooth. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar to chile mixture to balance any bitterness; then add toasted cumin and blend again until incorporated.

Heat 2 tablespoons of lard or vegetable oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add chile mixture to the hot oil and cook, stirring, until it is reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Add salt to taste. Will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator.