Wednesday, March 21, 2012


De La Ristra…              

So…you couldn’t resist buying that gorgeous icon of the southwest, the red chile ristra, AND you think you want to make red chile sauce from scratch.

It is not easy!

Having given this disclaimer, I must sing the praises of fresh red chile sauce as there is nothing that tastes more authentic or more subtlety delicious than the real thing.

Once made, it can be used as enchilada sauce or to make red chile stew. Add some cubed cooked chicken or browned cubed beef to the sauce and let it simmer in the slow cooker for a few hours. Serve the stew in a bowl with quesadillas or fresh flour tortillas.

When you get authentic chile at a chili cook off, this is what you’re getting. No beans.

Red Chile Sauce (The gravy you make from the chiles)

Set aside an entire day.

Pull off the fresh chiles from your ristra. They are easier to handle and have better flavor if you let them dry out on the ristra.  Please know that if you use the whole ristra the sauce will freeze perfectly and you won’t let the other chiles get moldy and rot. The thought of going through all that work again is dreadful.

Put on gloves. And, if you happen to use your bare hands, don’t wipe your eyes or nose. Wash your hands with soap and water as soon as possible.

Cut a slit down one side of the chile to open it. Remove as many of the stems, seeds and veins from each chile as you can.

Heat a little oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Lay the chiles in the skillet to heat them a few seconds on each side, turning once. This brings out more flavor than skipping this step. Don’t burn them. This should be a gentle process.

Put them in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, turn down the heat and let them simmer for 1 hour.

When they are floppy and soft, drain them, saving the liquid. Put the chiles in a blender or food processor, adding some of the cooking liquid, garlic, salt, a capful of vinegar and a little sugar. Process into a pulp.

You will then need to strain out any tough bits of skin or seeds that remain in the pulp. This can be done with a sieve and wooden pestle or with a metal strainer. This is the most difficult part of the process for me but makes such a difference.

Once you have pureed and strained all of the chiles, you have the paste. Freeze it or use part and freeze the rest.

To make the red chile sauce to use for stew, enchilada sauce, etc. , you will need the following:

The basic recipe:

2 tablespoons lard
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups red chile sauce that you made
3-4 cups liquid with 2 Knorr beef or chicken bouillon cubes (the secret ingredient).
(It seems like every time I make this I use different amounts of broth. Strive for the consistency of a perfect gravy…thinner for enchilada sauce.)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cloves minced garlic
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican dried oregano


Heat the lard or oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven.
Add the flour as if making a rue or gravy. 
Slowly brown the flour in the lard 7-9 minutes. This is a most important step. You are cooking the flour and this is what makes the chile sauce have the delicate flavor and consistency you are after. If you brown it too much you have to throw it out and start over. If you don’t brown it enough the sauce will taste like uncooked flour.

As the flour and lard mixture turns golden brown and is breaking apart, slowly add some of the liquid from cooking the chiles, whisking constantly as you keep adding more liquid.

As the mixture starts to absorb the liquid and is not so thick, add the red chile sauce and the water or broth.

A few notes:

“Chile” is the New Mexico accepted spelling for the vegetable and the products of the vegetable.

“Chili” usually means a hearty soup with beans. In Arizona, this spelling is often seen referring to a paste or powder made from the red chiles as in the Santa Cruz brands.

Broth: I use some of the liquid from cooking the chiles and always add the bouillon to the chile cooking liquid or to water, which ever I have.

May I suggest buying Santa Cruz Red Chili Paste or Santa Cruz Red Chili Powder instead of making the paste from the ristra?

The recipes are on the jar or box. It is made in Tumacacori, AZ and it is available in a few Arizona supermarkets or you may order it online. It is mostly available in the smaller neighborhood markets that offer a good selection of Mexican spices and ingredients.

For the finished product, cook a beef pot roast in the slow cooker on low over night with some chopped onions under it and some garlic on top of it. Add a cup of water, cover and forget it until the next morning.

Take the meat out of the slow cooker and set aside to cool.

Strain the liquid from the slow cooker and save in a glass measuring cup.

When it's cooled off, cut the roast into cubes. 

Shake the beef cubes in some seasoned (just salt and pepper) flour in a plastic bag.

Brown the meat in some bacon grease in a heavy dutch oven or deep skillet while using a spatula to loosen the savory bits from the bottom of the skillet.

Add the red chile sauce to the browned beef cubes.

Heat it on the stove to make sure it is the right consistency by adding some broth or liquid from cooking the roast.

Put the whole thing into the slow cooker on low. 

Time to eat? 

Make burros, top fried eggs for breakfast, serve it in a bowl as red chile stew with some tortillas or quesadillas on the side...or just eat it right out of the pot. You will be glad that you gave it the time and effort it requires.

So will everyone who is invited to enjoy it.

Viva La Ristra y Feliz Navidad


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