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New Mexico Chile Sauce

I just returned from my first-ever trip to beautiful New Mexico, and among the things I loved most was the delicious red and green chile sauces that are on virtually every menu. I'd love to be able to make these sauces at home, but, after looking at recipes from some of the area's restaurants' cookbooks (Coyote Cafe, Rancho de Chimayo, Cafe Pasqual's) I'm very confused.

First, for the green chile sauce -- assuming I can even find fresh New Mexico chiles here in Pennsylvania -- how do I know if the chiles are hot or mild? In my (limited) experience, I found the green chile sauce to be hotter than the red. The Rancho de Chimayo Cookbook, for example, says, "The restaurant makes Green Chile Sauce [by] combining equal proportions of mild and hot green chiles." Does that mean I can use ANY kind of green chiles, so long as the hot/mild balance is right? I've been under the impression that the "real deal" must be made from fresh New Mexico chiles.

Next question, should I add meat, or not? Or is it simply a matter of personal preference? Also, should I add a thickener (flour, cornstarch, etc.) or not?

For the red chile sauce -- should it be chunky, or smooth (Cafe Pasqual's says to "pass it through a fine-mesh strainer)?

And for both red and green sauces, should liquid such as vegetable broth or water be added, as some recipes (Rancho de Chimayo calls for 4 cups of water in a 6-cup yielding recipe; Coyote Cafe calls for 1 cup of liquid in a recipe that yields 4 cups) call for?

Part of my dilemma is that I haven't eaten and analyzed enough New Mexico chile sauce to know what would make the most sense for my liking. I need some expert guidance here. Thanks!

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  1. Good Luck in whatever you do.
    From a former Albuquerque resident's point of view, I'd use pork for flavoring, and chicken stock. Don't ask me about heat, because I like it hot, so any heat level is ok with me.
    Red chile should be smooth. Small pieces of chile would be ok, since they will be roasted, and generally have no real "chew" to them.

    All that aside, not sure where you had your chile in NM, but if you developed a "taste" for it, you will never get the flavor of real NM chile unless you use NM chiles. Hatch chiles were the custom where I was. I've tried several times, and it just doesn't work out right when you don't use good NM chiles. You can order them of the web. Do quick search. You'll find them.

    1. It hadn't occurred to me to order fresh chiles off the web. Great idea! Do I need a crash course on NM chiles before I order?

      9 Replies
      1. re: CindyJ

        Expat New Mexican here as well: you'd be better off ordering frozen roasted chiles than fresh, because they're not only easier to work with, they're more evenly roasted than you'd be able to do yourself with just a cooktop or broiler. Go to New Mexico in August or September and you'll see these giant gas-fired tumbling chile roasters everywhere, doing 50 pounds at a time.

        I order mine from this place:

        http://newmexicanconnection.com/

        Which is about three blocks from my old apartment in Albuquerque!

        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

          Great link! I was a bit skeptical about using frozen chiles. Do they cook up as nicely as the fresh ones? Do you have a favorite variety?

          1. re: CindyJ

            Frozen is the next best thing to fresh. For your half hot / half mild recipe, mix Sandias and Big Jims.

            1. re: CindyJ

              For a green chile sauce, it really doesn't matter if they're fresh or frozen, because they're roasted either way. And frankly, most New Mexicans use frozen green chile 11 months out of the year anyway: buy a bushel or two in September at harvest time, roasted, and parcel it out into freezer bags to use throughout the rest of the year.

            2. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

              I live in California in a community that has a big immigrant Mexican population, and can easily get fresh poblanos (some people call them pasillas) most of the year, which I roast and use in various chile verde type recipes. We can also get "Anaheim" type fresh green peppers, which I have always considered inferior to the poblanos in flavor, color, and texture. Are they different than the NM? What are your thoughts on poblano vs. New Mexico green chile? TIA

              1. re: dkenworthy

                You raise an interesting point. I can also get fresh poblanos most of the time, as well as serranos, jalepenos, habaneros, and a few others. While it might not yield the same result as making green chile sauce with NM chiles, I'm wondering if the right combination of other roasted peppers might result in a sauce that's just as delicious. Maybe it's time to experiment.

                1. re: dkenworthy

                  They're apples and oranges. Not superior, not inferior, just different. If you want a traditional NM green chile sauce, you're not going to get it with poblano peppers. A sauce made with poblanos might taste just as good--heck, maybe even better--than one made with NM chiles, but it won't be an NM chile sauce.

              2. re: CindyJ

                You may be able to find "fresh" but frozen was my idea. I'm not sure "fresh" are avail, but I do know that frozen are.

              3. When we went to Santa Fe in the 90's I fell in love with the cuisine myself. I really like hot food so it was lots of fun eating there.

                The breakfast burritos they make there really intrigued me so I asked each place we ate them at the recipe for the red brick chili sauce used on them and came up with the following that we've been using for years.

                8 New Mexico dried chilies
                1 TBS cider vinegar
                2 TBS flour
                2 TBS canola oil (real lard works well too)

                Open the chilies and clean out the seeds and spines.
                Put the chilies into a pot with enough water (4 cups?) to cover. Bring to a boil, cook for 5 minutes and take off from the heat. Allow the chilies to soak in the water for another 15 min.

                Pour the chilies and the water into a blender and puree. Strain the puree pushing it through the sieve scraping off the bottom into a bowl.

                In a skillet make a roux with the flour and the fat (oil or lard) stirring to remove any lumps, cooking for a couple of minutes. Pour the strained puree and the cider vinegar into the skillet and stir into the roux. Allow to simmer for about 20 min.

                This is a great sauce to freeze and have ready for a quick breakfast burrito. My wife makes a filling of chorizo, corn kernels, egg and pre-cooked black beans in a skillet. We then heat up some whole wheat tortillas and add some filling, wrapping up the tortilla into a burrito and draping it with the sauce.

                Makes a great Sunday morning breakfast!

                1 Reply
                1. re: kevine

                  Here is how I make red chilli sauce. Heat 3 table spoons of peanut oil or lard
                  or a combination there of in a deep sauce pan. Add 3 table spoons of flour and
                  stir continuously until it becomes nut brown. Remove from fire and add 2 cloves
                  of garlic. Remove garlic when brown. Add warm water and stir vigorously until
                  sauce has the consistency of gravy. It will go through a phase when you might
                  think you are making cement but just keep mixing in water till it thins out. It
                  is better to add water slowly to prevent lumps. If you get lumps just stop adding water and continue stirring till lumps break up. Once you reach the
                  consistency of gravy add the chilli powder untill it is spicy enough to suit
                  you. Finally add salt until you like the flavor.
                  Google Chimayo chilli powder to find a source for the powder.

                2. Expat fifth-generation New Mexican here. FWIW...

                  While green chiles certainly exhibit terroir, and those from the Hatch Valley are prized all over the country, they're only available for a few weeks in late summer / early fall. The typical mild Hatch chile is a Sandia; the same variety is sold green in most grocery stores as an Anaheim. For a little more heat, Joe Parkers or Big Jims can be substituted for some or all of the Sandias, but you're probably going to have a hard time finding those in PA. Although it's not traditional, you can use widely-available jalapenos or serranos to punch up the heat level.

                  Regarless of which chiles you choose, to make green chile sauce, roast the peppers over high heat until the skins blacken and blister, then put them in a paper bag and let stand for ten minutes or so. Then remove the skins (they'll slip right off), stems, seeds, and membranes and chop coarsely. Sweat some onion and garlic in lard with a little salt until softened, then add the chile and a pinch of cumin and simmer for ten minutes. Blend until fairly smooth, thinning with chicken stock as needed. Correct seasonings and serve.

                  Red chile is a little more involved. You definitely want to use dried Hatch peppers. Dried chiles ship more easily than fresh, and you don't have to worry about spoilage, so get the good stuff. If you want to go traditional, keep a ristra hanging in your kitchen and pick off chiles as needed (just make sure they're edible, since some places sell purely decorative ristras that are shellacked). Otherwise, buy the chiles by the bag. There are plenty of online sources, and many markets and groceries have dried NM chiles.

                  When you're ready to cook, take some chiles, remove the stems and seeds, tear the flesh into manageable pieces, and (this is important) toast the pieces until they become very fragrant and begin to change color. (You can do this on a medium-low griddle or in a 250F oven; just be careful not to burn them.) Put the chiles in a saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Shut the heat off and let stand, covered, for half an hour or so. Put a heat-proof plate or dish on top of the chiles to keep them submerged.

                  Meanwhile, in a saucepan (use on that's larger than you think you'll need), sweat some onions and garlic in lard with some salt until softened. Drain the chiles (discard the soaking water--it tends to be bitter) and add to the pan with chicken stock, cumin, and oregano. Start with just enough stock to cover the chiles, but keep more at the simmer; you'll need it later.

                  Simmer for half an hour or so, stirring frequently, then pass through a food mill (Grandma's version) or buzz with a stick blender and pour through a sieve (my version). Add chicken stock as necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Salt to taste, and you're done.

                  You can make large batches of red chile; it freezes well. For green chiles, I like to freeze up a whole bunch of roasted, skinned, and seeded peppers each fall, then defrost them and make sauce as needed. Meanwhile, start making plans for Labor Day weekend--Hatch, NM has its Chile Festival on Saturday and Sunday!

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: alanbarnes

                    Thanks so much for the detailed directions. We can get dried "New Mexico" chiles here. But as for fresh chiles, the markets far too often toss all kinds of peppers into a bin labeled "assorted peppers" and I never know if they're hot, mild or in-between. Some, like the habanero, I can recognize, but others defy recognition. I also have a feeling they won't grow too well in this PA climate, so I'm not going to try. I'm thinking that as gordeaux suggested, mail order may be my best solution to the fresh NM chile dilemma..

                    1. re: CindyJ

                      Cindy

                      As a general rule of thumb. With chiles, green is hotter than red. Small and thin is hotter than big and fat.
                      It doesn't always work out that way because habaneros are small but they aren't thin nor are they green. Same with some of the scotch bonnets.
                      But it's a decent guideline.

                      DT

                      1. re: Davwud

                        The capsaicin content actually peaks when they first turn red (or whatever the ripe color is for that variety), then some of the capsaicinoids are converted to sugars as the pods continue to ripen further. So if we're comparing a green and red chile from the same cultivar, the red one will usually be hotter.

                        I would certainly classify habaneros as thin-fleshed, very thin-fleshed actually, and they *are* green before they turn orange (or another color, but there's a good argument that only the orange ones are true habaneros). All peppers are green before they ripen.

                    2. re: alanbarnes

                      alanbarnes, thank you for confirming that NM residents have the good sense Not to use roux in their chile sauces (except for some cheap restaurants :-( ).

                      To the OP, I'd be very surprised if you can't find canned plain 'green chiles' under the Ortega label or other national brands; these are mild NM type chiles. The fire roasted kind are especially good.
                      'Assorted' chile pepper bin <shudder>

                      1. re: DiveFan

                        How about the Colorado residents who prefer a thicker sauce? Do they have the good sense to use a roux, or is that bad? :)
                        paulj

                        1. re: DiveFan

                          My comment about roux was a jab at 'old school' Americanized Mex food; it used to be (?) more commonly used especially in Tex-Mex brown sauce. Certainly add more NM/Anaheim chiles to thicken the sauce.

                          I'm with you, alanb, use some tomato/tomatillo to tone down excess heat (unlikely with NM type chiles).

                          As alanb's first post stated NM Sandia = Anaheim = most canned 'green chile', not to be confused with canned jalapenos, serranos, poblanos where the variety is explicitly stated on the label. There are scads of similar NM chile cultivars that are mild so who really knows what we are buying.

                          Which 'green chile' grown today in Cali is usually whatever gives the greatest yield locally; the seeds are more likely one of the latest NMSU developed varieties. I doubt that any 'Anaheims' are grown near Anaheim anymore.

                          EDIT - just noticed that I had a can of Ortega (Nestle owned) 'green chile' which gives no indication of where the chiles were grown (in the US). I don't think Ortega has used the term 'Anaheim' for the canned product in decades, if ever.
                          My cans of Hatch brand green chile also don't say where grown, but they do say HOT.

                          1. re: DiveFan

                            I've used those canned green chiles, and truthfully, I think they're bland beyond bland. Maybe I haven't used the right brand. Most of our larger supermarkets here cater to a substantial Latino market, so I can probably find other brands of canned chiles to try. Still, my perception of most things canned is that they're most often soggy and not very flavorful.

                            1. re: DiveFan

                              The real difference is whether you use whole or powdered red chiles. Powder pretty much has to have a thickener. But pureed whole red chiles can make a sauce so thick a spoon will stand up in it. No thickener required. I actually make mine very, very thick and then thin it if needed (eg for enchiladas) or add it straight to other things (eg red pozole).

                            2. re: alanbarnes

                              Cindy: The long (~6") thin (~1.5") green chiles in the "assorted" bin are probably Anaheims. The other chiles that look the same and are hotter are fairly unusual in most parts of the country. But taste first to make sure.

                              The mild green chiles in cans are also Anaheims. Ortega got its start around the turn of the last century when Emilio Ortega took chile seeds from his native New Mexico to (you guessed it) Anaheim, California where he planted them and started his empire. IMHO the chiles grown in California are inferior to those grown in New Mexico, but they are definitely the same varietal. And this time of year, canned and frozen may be your best bets.

                              DiveFan: I can't speak to all NM residents, but it seems to me that adding thickener to chile would force you to stretch the sauce. It might make sense if the intensity of flavor or heat was too much. I've been known to add tomato paste and stock to tone down a particularly pungent batch, but a roux would probably work as well. On the other hand, it might also just be a way to economize. But chiles don't cost all that much...

                              paulj: If you want thicker sauce, why not just add less stock?

                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                Excellent post on "authentic" red and green chile. Not many people know how to make red chile. Most of the Mexican restaurants in Denver put green chile on their enchiladas. I like red chile on my enchiladas (green on a burrito) and I use a variety of dried chiles (ancho, pasilla), and toast them just as you stated (they only need a few seconds on each side). I also add a couple of chunks of pork (a lot for stew) to my green chile, and rotel tomatoes if I'm making green chile stew.

                              2. CindyJ, if you want to sort out which chile peppers are which in your local 'assorted bin' here are some 'hot' links:

                                - http://www.g6csy.net/chile/database.html - best pictures
                                - http://www.fiery-foods.com/dave/ndx_p...
                                - http://www.thechileman.org/
                                - http://www.pepperfool.com/links/fresh...

                                There are also plentiful recipes and seed/plant sources within the above sites.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: DiveFan

                                  Well....my friend brought back HATCH chili powder from Santa Fe, and my package says use FLOUR/ROUX to make the sauce, and I do and its GREAT! I will never again make use of canned sauce if possilbe- though I did find some HATCH cans at my local retailer just a week or so ago- haven't had the chance to use yet.

                                  I am making my first trip to Taos this August- the last week- so I am excited to get a chance to see the chili roasters, eat the various styles of food and drink, and most of all- just to breathe the air.

                                  I grow poblanos, anchos and chocolate peppers, and can hardly wait to see the seeds I can pick up in NM.

                                  My favorite recipe for poblanos is to stuff raw chilis with rice, smoked gouda, black beans, corn and green onion, cilantro and diced jalapeno. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes- YUM! I do not roast them before hand, and they stay large and plump- and they do not goush out when cut into- they are perfect. For those who [prefer to, the skins are simple to pull off prior to eatting on the plate- it does just slip right off.

                                  1. re: JalamaMama

                                    Chimayo isn't far from Taos, and I'd recommend you try to add it to your trip. Rancho de Chimayo is one of my favorite New Mexican restaurants.

                                    1. re: dhedges53

                                      I'm already back from my trip (I was there in May) and we stopped at Rancho de Chimayo for dinner one evening. We really did enjoy it. Between my husband and I, we shared the stuffed sopaipilla and one of the combination platters. We loved it all. It didn't matter to us that it was a somewhat touristy place -- after all, we were tourists, and the food was authentically New Mexican, and that's what we were looking for.

                                  2. re: DiveFan

                                    Wow, my flabber is gasted. Roux in a Hatch chile sauce. I still contend that it's a filler because powders don't have body like whole chiles. Good to hear that it turned out OK. Just thinking out loud, I would expect some use of Corn flour as this is indigenous to the region.
                                    I agree with CindyJ that canned chiles tend to be bland. I'd order the frozen or try to take advantage of the few chile trucks that make it out here in summer but I don't have room in my small freezer!
                                    Roasted fresh poblanos are one of the best aromas on the planet and they make a great sauce!

                                    1. re: DiveFan

                                      I think I must have led a deprived life up until now -- to never have been in the presence of the aroma of fresh chiles roasting.

                                      "Chile trucks" -- are those anything like ice cream trucks?

                                      1. re: CindyJ

                                        Actually, being within 10 yards or so of one of those tumbler roasters doing up a batch of green chile is unpleasantly close to being tear-gassed: between the charring of the skins and the release of some of the capsaicin into the air...well, just make sure you're not wearing contacts.