This stuff is amazing. It’s one of those little gems you find in the corner of a cookbook, and can’t believe you’ve never heard of it before. I found this wonderful chipotle paste in one of my favoritest cookbooks of all time, Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen. He has a whole chapter of basic salsas and foundations that you can use to build all kinds of other meals and flavors, and this is just tucked nonchalantly into the chapter where you might not notice it. But in my copy of the book, the page for this chipotle paste is creased and smudged and easy to find, because it is one of my favorite little resources in the kitchen.
Why is it so great? Well, lots of reasons. I love using chipotles, but in the past I’ve always had to open one of those little cans (which are also great, don’t get me wrong) and I usually don’t end up using all of it. This is a convenient way to use as much or as little chipotle as you want. It’s delicious on its own, although you probably would never eat it by itself. Rather, it is a great way to add chipotle flavor to almost anything, which is something I do frequently. Use it instead of cayenne or hot sauce if you just want something to be more spicy, or add a little bit to a sauce or chili to get the complex spicy smokiness of that wonderful chipotle flavor. You also can mix it to ketchup or mayonnaise or hummus or sour cream to make a new and interesting twist on those familiar flavors. In short, this is a huge asset for both improving and simplifying your time in the kitchen.
The crucial ingredient for making the paste is a whole bunch of dried chipotle chiles. Depending on your area, they may be hard to find, but don’t give up yet. Look for them in Mexican or Latin markets, or even general International groceries. If you live in an area with a prominent Latino population, you can usually even find chipotles in the supermarket. I’m sure as a last resort you can order a bunch online as well.
There are technically two kinds of chipotles: big tan ones and little reddish-black ones. For this recipe, you want the red ones; they’re usually about an inch or two long and fairly wrinkled rather than smooth in appearance (see the photo at the top of the post). They also go by the name “moritas” or “chipotles colorados”, so don’t get thrown off when you’re searching through all the Spanish words to find them. I’m lucky enough at the moment to have a local store that sells them loose by the pound, so I can always double check to make sure they’re the real deal by smelling for the aroma of woodsmoke. If you do find a good Mexican market, feel free to pick up some piloncillo sugar as well, since that’ll be more authentic than the brown sugar/molasses I’m using today.
If you’re not sure how much you like chipotle, I’d recommend only making a half recipe to start. This keeps for weeks in the fridge, but you don’t use very much at a time and it’ll be around for awhile. Generally, I think about a teaspoon of this chipotle paste equals roughly one chipotle chile (from the can or otherwise). I really want you to try this stuff out.
Smoky Sweet Chipotle Paste Recipe
1/3 cup dark brown sugar plus 2 teaspoons molasses
2.5 ounces piloncillo
4 ounces dried chipotle chiles
3 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp salt
vegetable oil for frying (around a cup’s worth, depending on your pan)
In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar into 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to heat and simmer briefly to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and set aside.
Fill another small pan with vegetable oil to a depth of 1/4 inch or so, and bring to heat. When it’s hot, fry half of the chiles in the oil. Stir as they cook; they’ll toast and become lighter red and then get a little brown. Most of them will also “inflate” and look more pepper-shaped again.
Once they’re somewhat toasty, remove from the oil (drain off as much of it as possible) and drop them into the sugar water. Fry the other chiles and do the same thing.
Drain off most of the oil from the pan, leaving just a little in the bottom. Fry the garlic cloves whole until golden and toasty.
Add the garlic to the chiles and water, and blend the heck out of the whole situation. Get it as smooth as possible; you can add a little water if it’s not blending well, but don’t go overboard.
Strain the mixture to remove all the seeds and pulp. If you end up with more than a tablespoon or two of leftovers, blend it more thoroughly and try again. Alternatively, the original recipe suggests removing the seeds and stems beforehand, which is another good option. I don’t do it that way because it takes forever and I prefer to strain after blending. Your choice.
Bring the oiled pan back to heat, and when hot, add all the puree back into the pan at once. Simmer gently, stirring often, until reduce in volume and thick like tomato paste. The color will be extremely dark red/almost black. Add the salt and mix in. Store it in the fridge, or freeze half of it if you’re not sure how quick you’ll use it.
There you go: your ticket to awesome chipotle paste! Please try it and tell me how it goes. I’m guessing you’ll thank me, because this stuff is great.
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