"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Thursday, March 5, 2009

It's Official! Melissa and Ancho Chilies are Getting Married.

Oh, ancho chilies, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. I love thee for thy mysterious, unattainable nature, or at least practically unattainable in New England.

2. I love thee for thy odd, yet simple preparation.

3. I love thee for thy amazing affinity with fruit.

4. I love thee for thy ability to transform thyself from raw-tasting to smooth and polished.

5. I love thee for thy ability to be the base of two amazing sauces, both of which I will discuss here!

Ancho chilies, where have you been all my life? Oh, in Mexico? That's why we've never met. The closest I came was when we lived in Texas, but I was in elementary school then and had a crush on peanut butter.

Then, of course, I lived in Belgium, but was seduced by all that dark chocolate and French bistro cooking--not a bad way to lose one's culinary virginity.

I must confess, I've been faithful to France for years. Decades. Oh, I've had my cheap, one-night flings with Chinese, Indian, and even Korean restaurants. I've flirted with sushi bars and tapas menus.

The closest I came to you was an "authentic" Mexican restaurant on Mt. Desert Island, but I got roughed up by tequila and was afraid to try again.

But here we are, together at last! And in the privacy of my very own kitchen. Nothing, Ancho Chilies, nothing can stop us now. Think of the beautiful music we will make together!

OK, getting down to business--with ancho chilies, my newfound true love, I made two recipes from the book--Grilled Pork Kebabs with Manchamantel Sauce and Duck Breasts with Orange-Ancho Chili Sauce.

Here they are:

OK, I know they don't look very glamorous. And can I also just stop and say how hard it is to find these freaking things? They are NOT in the stores around here, not even the wonderful Market Basket. I happened to be in The Fruitful Basket and noticed Bobby had some poblanos out on display. When I remarked on them (cuz I never see those suckers around either) he said he also had some anchos in the back that a local restaurant had ordered--he had tons. Well, not tons. A ton of dried chilies would take up a lot of space. He wasn't even going to put them out because nobody would buy them.

Well, by now you know I'm not just any ordinary nobody. I bought one bag...then another. I won't say it's like buying pot, because I have NO IDEA what that's like, but from what I HEAR it's kind of the same illicit feeling.

Anyway, both of these recipes have you deal with your anchos the same way. You start by toasting them for 30-40 seconds in a dry skillet.

Why? I don't know. It does seem to soften them up a bit, make them slightly more pliable. They do get a little darker. You don't really keep them on there long enough to make a flavor difference, I don't think, but then again nori sheets only take a second to toast.

Then they get a nice long hot bath. Ahhhhh.

At this point they're soft, and can be de-seeded and -stemmed, and chopped up for the next stage.

The next stage for the Manchamantel Sauce was to put them in the blender with stock, some bananas, pineapple, cinnamon, cloves, and some previously sauteed onions and garlic.

For the Ancho-Orange Sauce, the next stage was to put them in a blender with garlic and some chili bath water, and then add it to some caramel that you've just made, thinned out with some fresh-squeezed orange juice.

For both of these sauces, the critical final stage is to cook them in the frying pan for about five minutes.

This smooths out the rough edges.

And, eh voila! I mean, mira!

Pork kebabs:

and duck breasts to go:

(the ancho-chili sauce is under the meat, but it's there, I promise)

But wait! I hear you conservative New England palates cry out...aren't these chilies hot? How can you deliver duck breasts with chili sauce to an 87 year-old man for lunch?

That's the thing, people. They're not hot. These sauces are like the best fruit ketchups you've ever had in your life, ever. Why there isn't more than one type of ketchup out there is beyond me but I think either one of these could give Heinz a run for their money.

I don't know how you're going to try these unless you live somewhere else that sells them, or order things through the mail, or have a connection.

But try them you must. I'm into open marriages (with my dinner ingredients), and I'm willing to share.


Adrienne said...

Hey Melissa - I found dried anchos at the Stop N Shop in the Porter Square shopping plaza in Cambridge/Somerville, and they had a bunch more dried chilis, too. They hide them around this weird corner over by the prepared foods/deli area, but they're usually available. I know that's sort of a hike for you, but I thought you might like to know. Also, Christina's in Inman Square in Cambridge has a killer assortment of dried chilis and mushrooms and extremely cheap and awesome spices/ whole grains. It is one of my fav places ever!

Jessica said...

I'm glad you posted this--I had no idea what an ancho chile was except for I couldn't find them anywhere and I need them for a mole sauce.

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

Adrienne, thanks for the heads-up! I'll keep those stores in mind...sounds like a good excuse for an excursion into Cambridge...

Jessica, if you have a health food store near you it's possible they might sell them in bulk--otherwise you're probably going to have to go with mail order!

Georgia said...

The Manchamantel Sauce pic is gorgeous. Based solely on the ingredients, I'd this sauce by itself!