Tamale/Chili help needed....Lars? Anyone?

doucanoeFebruary 19, 2014

Hard to believe at my age, but I had my very first tamale over the weekend, at a Mexican restaurant in St Paul . OMG....I love them!

So of course I want to make them, now!

Found several recipes online. Also read Lars' recent tamale post and am going back to take notes.

I need a "Chili Pepper Primer".

I am familiar and have worked with jalapenos, chipotles, poblanos, anaheims & habaneros. I also have a half-bag of dried arbol chilis (don't recall why I have them or what I used them for....)

So if I want to make my own chili sauce for tamales, what chilies should I look for? Anaheims seem very mild to me, but maybe dried they are spicier? I like spicy but not habanero hot.

Don't laugh....where I live people break a sweat on milk and white bread!

Educate me if you will.....


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Here is a recipe I wrote for basic chili sauce and posted here eight years ago:

Basic Chili Sauce

8 whole, dried chilies (Ancho, Pasilla, Guajillo combination*)
2 cups water
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried or fresh oregano
1 tsp red wine or balsamic vinegar (optional)

Remove the stems from the chilies and slit open to remove seeds and membranes. Place the chilies in a saucepan with the rest of the ingredients (except the vinegar) and simmer covered for 20-30 minutes, or microwave for about 2-1/2 minutes and let stand for 20 minutes, microwave for one minute more and let stand another 10 minutes. Blend coarsely with a stick blender (or pulse in a blender), and strain the mixture through a coarse sieve (or food mill) to remove chili skins. Store in glass jar in refrigerator until ready to use. If you plan to store it very long, add 1 tsp of vinegar - I normally use it within 2-3 days, if not immediately, however.

For two cups of water, I would use 3 Ancho chilies, 2 Pasilla chiles and 3 Guajillo chilies, all of which are dried, but you can vary the amounts. Using 4 Anchos and 4 Guajillos is also good. For the last chili sauce I made, I used fresh Poblano chilies (in place of Pasilla chilies) and smoked them, but you could roast them over a gas flame instead. I do not use any raw fresh chilies in chili sauce, and some people fire roast the dried ones before making sauce, but I have not found that to be necessary.

I make a Habanero chili sauce with chilies from my back yard, and I grill them (in a grill pan) over mesquite charcoal/wood with some red bell peppers to make a Habanero sauce that is very potent, which is why I add the red bell peppers. I add quite a bit of vinegar and salt to my Habanero sauce so that it will keep longer, as it takes me a while to use it up. True chili sauce does not have tomato in it - if it does, it is then what I know as Adobo sauce, which I also make but use differently.

Chilies have a very distinctive flavor that is best appreciated in a pure form to start with, and then you can combine them with other ingredients, but it is best to start with a pure chili sauce, and then it will be more versatile, and you will appreciate the true flavor of the chilies.

The chilies I listed for the basic chili sauce are all very mild (by my standards), and so I generally add habanero sauce as needed for heat.

If you want to use Arbol chilies, make a sauce with them by themselves - they do not blend well with other chilies. They are good in Adobo sauce and benefit by being diluted with tomato, but their flavor is so complex that I find them difficult to utilize.

Where I grew up, you could order one alarm, two alarm, or three alarm chili (made with beef), and I never went beyond two alarm. I think in Minnesota, the one alarm chili in Texas would have been way too hot!

I eat chili sauce every day, in one form or another, whereas I seldom use black pepper, although I do like it. I find the flavor of the various chilies to be more complex and interesting.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 1:50AM
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Even if you find anchos to be mild, they are very good for establishing a good chile flavor, to which you can add whatever hot chiles you want to establish the heat level. If you just use hot chiles to bring your dish to your desired level of hotness, the dish won't be as full tasting as one that has a lot of non-hot chiles in it.

When I make chili con carne, I use a base of New Mexico red chiles (which have a nice zing but aren't terribly hot) and adjust the hotness by adding pequins.

The link has a comparison of chile peppers, their characteristics and applications.

Here is a link that might be useful: cooks thesaurus chile peppers

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 4:13AM
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Thanks Lars and Arley.

I do recall you posting that sauce recipe years ago, Lars. At the time I didn't need it, but I am glad you posted it again now that I do! LOL

I was able to find Guajillo and New Mexico Chilies at the grocery store this morning. So I bought both. I'll start with those and adjust as needed. I do have some Ancho Chili powder on hand. I suppose I could use a bit of that to add another layer of flavor?

Can chili sauce be frozen for future use? It would certainly seem like it could.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 2:02PM
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You can use New Mexico chilies in place of Ancho chilies. NM chilies are the best substitute for Ancho chlies. You can add the Ancho chili powder at the end if you need it, but the NM chilies should work fine, and the chili powder never has the same rich flavor that you get from whole dried chilies.

The sauce does freeze well.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 6:23PM
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Thanks Lars!

I made a batch using your recipe this afternoon, it's good! After I pureed and put it theru the food mill I cooked it down a little more to thicken it. I did add some cumin after tasting it just because I love cumin.

Thanks again, I knew you would have an answer for me!

Now to tackle tamales on Saturday!


    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 7:28PM
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A good helpful hint, if you can swing it, is to braise your pork the day before. Shredding the meat and adding the sauce. Gives it time to rest and 'mature'. That is if you want to use a pork filling. Seems to spread out the assembly time rather than a very long day of cooking.
Hundreds of recipes and styles but the basics are the same.
We like a very rich mole style sauce mixed into the pulled pork. I've never used a topping sauce like served in a restaurant. Unless we have a full meal with other things in the theme of guacamole, salsa dips etc. with company.
Ours are pretty hearty on their own as a quick breakfast or lunch snack. Lots of filling and never exactly the same depending on what chilies i have. They freeze really well.

For your first go at it you might put hand-to-forehead a few times wondering if what you are doing is right. It will be fun though.
Here is a link i've had bookmarked that is a good primer and step-by-step. I don't use the recipe but it is good to see the process and the cooking times. I also lay my colander on it side on the counter just above my prep area so it is easy to stack them in and on each other. Give yourself lots of counter space. Cover them with the leftover bits of corn husks that are too small to use. Keep an eye on the water level underneath while steaming...it tends to boil away quickly.
Have fun! I only have a pack of four left in the freezer...bummer.

Here is a link that might be useful: making tamales

    Bookmark   February 20, 2014 at 9:08PM
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I do plan on making a pork filling. Hoping also that I can make the meat ahead....maybe in the crockpot?

Looks like it'll be a weekend project. No problem since we got another flippin' foot of snow overnight and there's really noplace I have to (or can) go!

I was proactive, tho,and have my corn husks and a bag of masa and,I think,everything I will need.....


    Bookmark   February 21, 2014 at 10:56PM
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