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 Picante Try making your own red-chile sauce from dried ancho peppers, and you may never buy dried chile powder again.
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Ancho pepper Picante

I'm running way behind schedule today, so for this week's FoodLetter, let's knock out something quick, short and sweet. Well, not sweet, actually. "Hot" is more the word.

If you, like me, enjoy that heart-rate-boosting endorphin rush that comes with a taste of something picante, you may find this easy if not entirely authentic Mexican technique will, er, warm your heart.

I often eye the packaged dried Mexican chilies at panaderias and taquerias with considerable interest, but have shied away from using them much at home because I just assumed that there would be a lot of effort involved ... peeling, marinating, frying, pounding ... who knows what?

The other day, though, inspired by recent ventures into chili and Creole cookery, I broke the ice by picking up a modestly priced cello-wrapped packet of anchos (dried Mexican poblano peppers) at a local specialty store.

A quick pass through some Mexican cookbooks and a little Web-surfing later, I came up with a short-cut route to a surprisingly easy procedure that yielded a thick, dark-reddish-brown ancho sauce that's basically a simplified version of a Mexican salsa colorado. It's so delicious, and so versatile as an ingredient any time you need a shot of heat, that I don't think I'll ever use dried chile powder again. The dried peppers give the sauce a depth and complexity of hot/fruity/earthy flavor that stale powder in a bottle simply can't match.

The process is so simple that it hardly qualifies as a recipe; and you can make plenty, as the result freezes beautifully. I simply keep a plastic tub of it in the freezer and knock off a chunk whenever I need a little in a recipe. I've used it in settings as diverse as Midwestern chili, a nice fajita-style stir-fry of strips of beef, red bell pepper and onion, and simply rubbing a little on the skin and under the breast skin of a roast chicken. There's plenty left - just a few peppers will make enough to last for a long time.


4 dried ancho peppers
1/2 sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 of a lime
1/2 teaspoon salt


1. Rinse and dry the peppers if you're finicky, although I figure I'm going to be boiling off the germs anyway, and I worry about washing off some of the deicious oil that carries the flavor. Cut or tear them into small pieces (roughly 1 inch square, but precision is not important), discarding the seeds and the white inner membranes. (If you're truly macho or masochistic, you can leave these bits in, but in my opinion they contribute only one-dimensional heat without complexity or character. So sayeth I.)

2. Peel and coarsely chop the onion and the garlic and put them in a small saucepan with the pieces of dried pepper. Add the juice of the 1/2 lime and the salt, with just enough water to cover.

3. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a very low simmer, and cook for 30 minutes or so until the peppers are soft, adding a little more water from time to time if it dries out too much.

4. Using a standup or stick blender, blend the cooked ingredients into a smooth puree, and use in your recipe as instructed. You can usually substitute it directly in recipes calling for chile pepper, using a similar amount, but taste as you go and add more sauce as you like.

This thick sauce can be used immediately or stored for a week or two in the refrigerator. It seems to last almost indefinitely in the freezer.

Repeating last week's counsel for Creole-style pork chops, I often gravitate to beer, not wine, for hot-and-spicy fare. If it's wine you want, though, consider a sparkler or a good-quality off-dry white like a Riesling or Chenin Blanc.

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this article or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by the Food & Drink section of our brand-new WineLovers Community, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "FoodLetter: Picante,"

Click the REPLY button on the forum page to post a comment or response. (If your E-mail software broke this long link in half, take care to paste it all back into one line before you enter it in your Web browser.)

If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor Foodletter: Cookin' Creole (Oct. 27, 2005)

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Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005
Copyright 2005 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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