Panning for Gold

What I have to say here is probably very dangerous. In Texas some folks have probably been lynched for less. But I’m going to say it anyway. Texans don’t know the first thing about chile. I live in Texas. My husband’s entire family lives here too. But if you want real chile, you need to drive a whole day to New Mexico, where the sauce doesn’t mess around. My father-in-law, all unknowing, managed to do just that. He rolled into a little shop called Horseman’s at the edge of Santa Fe and asked for a bowl of chile. Now, a Texan who says this wants chile con carne, a comparatively mild stew of chili peppers, tomatoes, meat, onions, and sometimes beans. So you can imagine his confusion when he was asked the state question of New Mexico, “Red, green, or Christmas?” Well, he said green. At Horseman’s, if you aren’t a chile veteran, if you haven’t spent years preparing your palate to eat the firebird with a side of hot pokers, that’s the wrong answer. He claims it damn near burned his tongue off.

Don’t get too excited though. I’m making the red stuff.

New Mexican chile is a vibrant sauce. It can almost define the entire cuisine of the state, setting it apart from Tex-Mex and Mexican-American with an unusual smoothness and purity of flavor. We have a lot of various chile-based products in this apartment (I do mean a lot), but when we make New Mexican tacos or enchiladas, a batch of the real stuff must go with it. Or my husband will pout for hours.

New Mexican Red Chile

2 ½ cups water

12-14 dried New Mexican chiles such as Hatch chile (Ancho chiles will work if you can’t find NM chiles)

1 T olive oil

1 t garlic powder (or a clove of garlic, lightly roasted)

½ t mustard powder (Why, yes, I do use this in everything. Because it is just that good)

A pinch of salt (I used black volcanic salt, because it’s delightfully smoky. Table salt is great though)

Finely chopped cilantro or oregano to taste

Cut the stems off of the chiles and shake out the seeds. You won’t get all of them. That’s okay; you’ll get them out later. Bring the water to a boil and toss your chiles in. reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10-12 minutes. They will smell a bit sweet. Do not be alarmed.

Put the partially-rehydrated chiles and the water you cooked them in into your food processor or blender. (If you’re using fresh garlic, add it now. I used powdered.) Once the mixture is about as smooth as it’s going to get (not very), pour it into a strainer and strain it into a pot. The result should be a very smooth, very dark red.  My strainer has the finest mesh in the universe. After eight minutes (yes, I watched the clock) of scraping around with a spoon, this is what the end result looked like.

I told you you’d get the seeds out later.

Heat the chile puree over medium heat and add your garlic and mustard powders, salt, and herbs. It snowed here last week (In Dallas. I ask you, what is the world coming to?) so all of my non-rosemary herbs are either dead or horribly wilted and brittle. So we skipped the herbs tonight. Stir in the olive oil. This is the fun part: once the olive oil is properly mixed in it creates a fascinating sheen to the surface of the sauce. It almost looks like gold dust.

Serve over tacos or enchiladas or any new Mexican dish.

Oh, to make tacos? Don’t buy crunchy taco shells. Make your own! Briefly cook a soft corn tortilla in a skillet with a bit of corn or canola oil.






Fill with sour cream, refried beans, shredded cheese, lettuce( if you’re healthier, better people than we are), and spoon some chile on top. Or just dip your tacos in the bowl. Pulled chicken is  good if you’re not in the mood for beans (we’ll talk about that when I make enchiladas), and my husband loves his with beef, as you can see above.



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