Red Chile Sauce
Growing up, my grandmother and mother both made a delicious red chile sauce from red chiles. The chiles were picked after they were red and then dried—often by laying them out on my grandmother’s tin roof and turning daily. This sauce, as far as I know, is unique to the New Mexico area. Restaurants seem to mix a red sauce that includes dilutions such as tomato sauce or is made from red chile powder, rather than the chiles themselves.
Once chiles were completely air and sun dried, they were seeded and the tops and stems removed. This process was done with gloves because the cayenne in the chiles is very potent and after handling the chiles for a few minutes, the cayenne enters skin and will start to burn!
Here’s the recipe for making the sauce:
After cleaning the chiles, soak them in warm water.
Change the water two or three times, depending on how dirty the chile is.
Fill a blender with chile (lightly—do not pack!).
Add water to almost fill the blender
Blend the mixture
Using a vegetable or fruit strainer, strain the blended chiles. The idea here is to separate the skins and tough parts away from the succulent sauce. Some vegetable strainers will do this—others may not, so you’ll have to take that into account if you’re purchasing a strainer! The basic idea is some sort of paddle that “smashes” the mixture against a strainer. This smashing process forces the sauce through the strainer into a container of some sort.
Discard the chile skins—they should remain on the top of the strainer as you press the mixture.
Once you have the sauce, freeze it and use it as needed. My grandmother liked to either mince garlic into the chile or put in a whole clove when heating it. Don’t thin the sauce before freezing. If it is too thick, after you thaw it, add chicken broth or water to thin it to desired consistency. If a particular batch of red chile is too hot (this happened a lot), buy mild chiles and mix that sauce into the hot chiles.
Making chile this way is a lot of work, but the sauce is unique and very good.
The following enchilada recipe uses just red chile sauce, no additions.
Red Chile Enchiladas
Dip corn tortillas into red chile sauce. Make sure both sides are lightly coated with chile sauce.
Layer the tortillas in a casserole bowl with:
Lightly sautéed Onions
More chile sauce (if the sauce is mild enough you can be very generous. If not, go easy on the sauce.)
When you have three or more layers, bake at 350 until hot in the center (depending on how big the casserole is, this usually takes about ½ hour to 45 minutes).
Enchiladas are often served “meatless” with just the cheese and the chile sauce. Some people prefer to use raw onions or leave out the onions entirely. In New Mexico it is quite common to serve enchiladas with an egg, cooked over easy in the center.
I use red chile sauce to spice hot and sour soup, and it is a must-have spice for posole (meñudo). It’s also wondeful in a dish called carne guisada or carne adovado. Basically pork (or beef) chunks are grilled lightly and then covered with the chile and slow cooked (in a low-temp oven or crockpot) for about 5 or so hours. The crockpot method is much easier, although in the case of oven cooking, you don’t have to grill the meat first. Add salt, garlic and onions to the mix and then serve on warm tortillas with guacamale, sour cream and refried beans. There is nothing like it in the world!!!