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Essential Sweet-n-Smoky Chipotle Paste

Have I ever told you of my dried chile addiction?  They literally make me weak in the knees.  And I'm not talking about the overly-dried chiles that are so brittle they break apart at the slightest touch.  No, I'm talking about the dried chiles that are soft and pliable and ridiculously sexy.  Just a sniff has been known to lighten my mood or calm my nerves.

Take for instance this ancho chile that I have in my hand.  I know you can't see it, but I want you to close your eyes and visualize it.  But don't keep them closed or you can't continue reading my riveting words.  So picture a chile.  It's a deep, deep red.  It is smooth on the outside and sticky with spicy resin on the inside.  When I lift it to my nose and take in its scent, I smell sweet and rich and raisiny all at the same time.

No picture a gallon-sized baggie full of smaller packets of different types of dried chiles.  Aside from the anchos, there are pasillas, and mulatos...there are guajillos and moritas.  There are piquins and chiles de arbol.
That bag is sitting on a shelf in my pantry.  And every once in a while I just NEED to stop, zip open the top, and take a deep whiff.  It just makes me all kinds of happy.  I'm gonna have to include it in my "top 5 favorite smells" list.  What?  You don't have a favorite smells list?  Well, I do.

Approaching the subject of making something with those chiles (while quietly leaving behind my weird habits), I want to talk about the glorious smokiness of the morita, or dried chipotle chile.  There are a few different types of chipotles, but the red morita is my preference.  A chipotle is a red jalapeño that has been smoked and dried over the course of several days.  That is where those seductive smoky undertones come from.  If you open up a package that is filled with dried chipotles, you'll get a big nose full of it.  I highly recommend it.  Getting a nose full.  As if you couldn't have guessed.
This paste is extremely potent.  It makes an awesome seasoning-agent for those heat and spice lovers out there. And while it is tempered with a little sweetness from a syrup made with little cones of piloncillo, it is still FIRE.  So tell me, what do you think you would season with this paste that is deep, earthy, and smoky with a hint of sweetness?

Essential Sweet-n-Smoky Chipotle Paste

by Heather Schmitt-González
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Keywords: simmer condiment preserving nut-free soy-free vegan vegetarian chiles Mexican

Ingredients (1¼ cups)
  • 2½ oz. piloncillo (or ⅓ c. dark brown sugar + 2 tsp. molasses)
  • vegetable oil, for frying
  • 4 oz. (~50) dried chipotle chiles (moritas/colorados), stemmed
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ~½ tsp. salt
Place 1¼ cups of water into a medium-sized saucepan and add piloncillo. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Set a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add ~¼-inch of oil. When oil is hot, add half of the chiles and stir and toss them constantly until they start to smell amazing (but be careful not to inhale too deeply or you'll probably have a coughing fit) and change color a bit, ~1 minute. Transfer them to the pan with the piloncillo syrup, leaving behind as much oil as possible. Repeat with second half of chiles. Add garlic cloves to pan with oil and cook, stirring, until golden; this should take a couple more minutes. Add those to the chiles.

Pour everything into the jar of a blender or food processor and puree until very smooth.

Wipe out the skillet and then coat it with a thin layer of oil and set it over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add all of the chile puree at once. Stir for a minute, scraping up anything that sticks to the bottom. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for another 10-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the salsa has become as thick as tomato paste. It will smell (and taste) extremely spicy and be darkened considerably...almost black).

Taste CAREFULLY and season with salt. Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator. Will keep for weeks if stored properly.

suggested uses:
Stir a tablespoon or so into beans, soups, or bland barbecue sauces.

Mix a couple tablespoons with fish broth, wine, or water and use as boiling/steaming liquid to cook mussels or clams. Season and add chopped cilantro before pouring over the shellfish.

Make a cheese spread with cream cheese, goat cheese, green onions, cilantro or thyme, and some of the paste; season. Spread on crusty bread and add some ripe tomato slices.

Add a bit of water to thin the paste out and make it "saucy" then pass at the table as a condiment.

Make garlic-chipotle shrimp.

ever-so-slightly adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen
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