This week's recipe is for one of my favorite condiments– dried red chile salsa.
If you've made the jammy eggs or the chicken meatballs, you've already gotten some practice making tomato-based salsas. Today's recipe is a bit different, as it utilizes a classic Mexican technique of charring individual ingredients before combining them. This technique builds a ton of flavor, and it's really easy to do. This is the perfect table salsa– great on everything from tacos to rice bowls, eggs, sandwiches, and much more.
You can use any type of dried chile for this recipe. Dried chiles vary not just in heat levels but also in flavor. It's fun to try out and combine different chiles for all kinds of different flavor profiles. Some of my favorites include cascabel, Oaxacan pasilla, arbol, ancho, and sun-dried chipotle.
Every time I travel to Mexico I bring back a big bag of dried chiles, many of which can only be found in local markets there. But I've also found a few reliable stateside sources. My favorites come from Boonville Barn, an organic farm out of California. Los Chileros are also great and are more widely available. Rancho Gordo only occasionally carries dried whole chiles, but when they do they're fantastic.
As always, hop into the Telegram chat if you've got any questions!
- 1 ounce (~30g) dried chiles (I used a combination of guajillo, arbol, and ancho)
- 1 small yellow or white onion (peeled and sliced)
- 5-10 cloves of garlic (separated from the bulb, but not peeled)
- 1-2 tbsp lime juice or vinegar (I recommend sherry, cane, rice, or white wine vinegar)
Start by removing the seeds and veins from your chiles. This serves a few purposes– it tones down the intensity of the heat, removes some bitterness, and makes for a smoother salsa.
To do this, simply remove the stem, slice them open along the side, pull out the seed pod and seeds, and strip away the veins.
If you’re working with really hot chiles it helps to use plastic gloves for this step, as the capsaicin from the chiles will leak onto your hands. I don't always use gloves, but I always wash my hands immediately afterwards and make sure not to touch my eyes.
Next, pre-heat a cast iron pan over medium-hot heat.
Place the chiles in the skillet and briefly toast them on both sides.
The chiles will bubble up and soften. You may see a few whisps of smoke, but you don't want the chiles to burn. 30 seconds to 1 minute on each side is all that's needed.
This step is very important, as it will really unlock the aroma and flavor from the chiles.
Place the toasted chiles in a bowl and cover them with hot water to soak. You can use a plate to weigh them down.
Let them soak for 15 minutes. This will allow the chiles to fully rehydrate to the point where they can be easily blended into a sauce.
In the meantime, char your onion and garlic.
With the cast iron over medium-high heat, add in your onion slices and lay them flat. Add the unpeeled garlic cloves to the pan as well.
Cook everything, turning occasionally, until the onion slices have a dark char on both sides, and the garlic cloves have dark spots all over.
Side note: I first learned this technique in Mexico, and it's one of my favorites. By leaving your garlic unpeeled, you create a little shell around the garlic that allows it to roast without burning. The skin of the garlic will char (and will later be peeled away), but it will create a little protective barrier for the bulb to roast inside. The onion, on the other hand, benefits from a bit of burning. It creates a deep, savory flavor that's delicious in the salsa.
Once everything is charred, pull it off the skillet and allow it to cool.
Once the garlic has cooled, peel it and put the cloves in a blender. Add the onion and the soaked chiles, plus a bit of the soaking liquid. Add in a big a pinch of salt and a splash of vinegar or lime juice, and then blend it all up.
You can add in more of the soaking liquid as needed to get the consistency you want. Taste as you go and add more salt or acid as needed.
An optional last step for an extra-smooth salsa is to pass it through a fine-mesh strainer. This isn’t strictly necessary, but it's helpful when working with certain types of chiles (like guajillos) that have a thick skin. The mesh will filter out the tough skins (along with any seeds that may have made their way in) and give you a much smoother salsa.
Enjoy this as a condiment, or just eat it straight up with some tortilla chips! Once made, this salsa can be stored in an airtight container for up to a week in your fridge.