I had a couple bags of dried chilis hiding out in my fridge from last year’s harvest. I’d completely forgot about them until I was in there rummaging for something else. I harvested a bunch of my Jalapeno bushes last year when the peppers were bright red. I saved most of them and ran them through my Great Smokey Mountains locker-style BBQ smoker using apple wood to make chipotles. The other handful or so I put in the oven for a long time on low heat to simply dry out and store. This is a fantastic way to preserve chilis for use later and only serves to concentrate their basic flavor and heat. I typically only ever see red colored peppers dried out, but I’m not really sure why this is yet. Maybe later this year I’ll try drying out a few green chilis and compare the results.
Instead of haphazardly just throwing everything into the food processor as I have been doing, I’m going to approach this in a stacked method by starting with just chilis and adding additional ingredients as they’re needed. This particular sauce I’m going to be making is a simple chipotle sauce using the following ingredients:
Ingredients: Home-made dried chipotle and red jalapeno chilis, vinegar, salt, and lime.
Bringing back the dried chilis from the dead:
To reconstitute the chilis, I simply put them in a bowl and poured boiling water over the chilis just barely enough to cover. I let them steep for about 15-20 min. After they’re soft I picked them out one by one and put them in the processor. Some of them had charred skin which is bitter and not something you want in your sauce, so I had to de-skin a few. Typically this only happens when the heat is too high in your drying chamber. Oops. If you sun-dry your chilis, this isn’t an issue. The resulting steeping liquid had a slight bitter taste, presumably from charred chili skins and I didn’t feel it was worthy of putting into the sauce as a thinning agent, so I simply dumped it. No big loss, the capsaicin that leeched out into the water is negligible, and it won’t really add anything to the final sauce.
'Stacking' the Sauce:
With only the reconstituted chilis in the blender, I started the purree. They turned into an extremely thick paste as you see in the pictures. I added vinegar a little bit at a time until the consistency was where I wanted it. You can see the progression in the pictures. Then I gave it a taste. It’s very simple at this point and still needs a bit of sprucing up, so I zested a lime (not pictured) and squeezed the juice from half of the lime into the sauce. After blending to mix in the lime, I gave another taste, and decided it needed a bit of salt. So after mixing in a few pinches to taste, I felt it was in a good position to strain. Mix, taste, mix, taste, lather, rinse, repeat. Instead of straining and immediately bottling, I strained the mix into a saucepan to heat up to 180 degrees. This way any bacteria will die and the shelf-life will be extended significantly as long as all the other devices it contacts are sterilized. The glass bottle and cap were boiled/steamed along with the funnel I used for bottling, so the glass bottle full of sauce shouldn’t need to be refrigerated after bottling. Heating the sauce to this temperature also serves to additionally meld the flavor components, but you want to make sure not to boil it. Boiling the sauce at this point will only serve to reduce the liquid components further, thus negating the careful ingredient stacking we just performed, as well as make the vinegar component evaporate quickly. I bottled the overflow from the saucepan in a plastic squeeze-bottle container and put in the refrigerator since it will likely get used quickly.
The taste/consistency test:
This sauce has a deep, earthy, smokey, rich flavor from the smoked jalapenos, a nice acidic balance from the vinegar/lime, and an adequate salty component to make it all pop more. The consistency is quite thick from the relatively small amount of liquid ingredients. I don’t anticipate it separating, or dropping any spice particulate matter on the bottom since A) no ground spices were used, and B) the sauce’s consistency is too thick to allow it anyway. The capsaicin content is much higher than I’d anticipated, likely because I was dismissive about the level of capsaicin contained in fully ripened jalapenos, and also the concentration of those jalapenos to other ingredients is higher than usual.
After having rested for a while, the only thing I’d change about this sauce is the level of lime juice I used. I’m tending to favor lime zest in favor of lime juice because it seems to give a more concentrated lime flavor, but is still somewhat sweet. Adding lime juice tends to impart a somewhat bitter flavor as well as lime that I’m not fond of.
Again, if you’re local, I’ll likely bring some of this in for people to taste.