Fundamentals: Red Chile (Enchilada) Sauce

Fundamentals: Red Chile (Enchilada) Sauce
Using both fresh and dried chiles give this sauce character and depth of flavor.
After my impromptu success with huevos rancheros, I was beginning to feel like I needed to cook more Mexican (or at least Tex-Mex) food at home. I can make salsa or guacamole without thinking, but I realized that if I want to start making seriously delicious Mexican food, I needed to figure out a solid red chile sauce to use as a base.

With a good homemade sauce in hand, enchiladas and tamales are a piece of cake. You can also use for huevos rancheros as a substitute for salsa, and  as a flavor base for rice dishes and so much more. So I started reading. Some sauces relied on chili powder and other jarred spices. Some leaned heavily toward dried chiles while others stayed exclusively fresh. I stole a little from each recipe and the end result was so delicious, it's quickly become a fundamental sauce that I want to always have on hand in the freezer, like homemade tomato sauce.

Boozy Epicure's Red Chile (Enchilada) Sauce

1 red bell pepper
1 poblano chile
2 tblsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic
5 dried guajillo chiles
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup boiling water
1 small can fire roasted tomatoes
salt/pepper, to taste
agave syrup (honey or sugar work as well) to taste

The first step is roasting the fresh chiles. I have an electric stove so I did this under my broiler, but a grill or open flame of a gas range works well too. You basically place the whole chiles over/under the direct heat source until they just begin to blister and turn black. Then pop them straight into a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let them sit for a few minutes to cool. The steam that they release will help the skins slide right off, so after five minutes, pull off the plastic wrap, slide off the skins and remove the stem and seeds. It's a little slippery, but grab a paper towel and the job is easy. You end up with a smokey sweet chile flavor that has a fruity spiciness.

Now that you are done roasting your chiles, it's time to turn to the dried chiles. I hear that a quick roast of these chiles adds flavor but forgot the step this time, I'll definitely try it the next time. But, whether you roast/toast the dried chiles or not, you will want to pull off the stems and remove the seeds before tossing in a blender with the chicken stock and the boiling water. Let the peppers sit and steep about 10 minutes while you start cooking the rest of the sauce. After the chiles have soaked and softened, blitz away and have it waiting when the time comes to add it to the pot.

Cleaning dried chiles
Soaking in the stock/water

Meanwhile, place the oil in a pot and start cooking down the onions and garlic with a little salt (I had a leftover tomato, so I chopped it and added it as well). Once the onions have softened, add the roasted peppers and the chicken stock/dried chile mixture from the blender as well as the can of diced tomatoes.

Now it is simmer time. You can let this bubble away all day if you want, I gave it about an hour then I tossed everything back in the blender and blitzed again. This time with a towel over the top since I was using very hot liquid (safety first!). Also remember not to fill your blender more than halfway with hot liquid or it can burst and burn you. Once you've pureed this mixture down, just run it quickly though a strainer since the dried guajillo chiles have a pretty tough skin than you don't want messing up your perfectly smooth sauce.

Blender off, about half full.
Blender on, almost to the top.

Strained sauce of champions.

From here, all that is left is to taste and adjust your final seasoning. I needed a little salt and agave (use any sweetener you'd like) to balance the heat and the smoke. Now you are ready to start assembling enchiladas or you can separate the sauce and refrigerate/freeze for future use. The sauce is so much better than what you can buy in the can at the grocery store, and honestly, I liked it more than any I've had out at restaurants too. And other than a little fussing with the chiles, it's a cinch to make.

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