Chile Paste, 8 Ways
Like spice blends and rubs, chile pastes are not exactly sauces but cooking ingredients that are useful in dressings, sauces, and marinades and for smearing on foods before grilling or roasting.
The base ingredient here: pure dried chiles. Use relatively mild ones like ancho, Anaheim, or poblano (which will make the paste green). Guajillo or chipotle will be much hotter. The best, though, is a combination that includes both heat and complexity (my favorite is ancho with a hit of chipotle). The variations simply build additional flavors into the all-chile paste. Whichever kind you make, if fresh herbs or aromatics are involved, refrigerate and use within a day or so for maximum freshness and oomph. Otherwise, chile paste made with dried seasonings will last a couple of weeks.
Makes: About 1/2 cup
Time: 45 minutes, largely unattended
2 ounces dried whole chiles, 6 to 12 total, depending on size
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
1. Toast and clean the chiles. For a hotter paste, set aside some of the seeds. Put the chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water and a small plate to keep them submerged. Soak for about 30 minutes, until soft.
2. Drain the chiles, saving the soaking liquid. Put the chiles, any seeds you might be using, and a pinch of salt in a blender or food processor. Purée until smooth, adding a spoonful of soaking water at a time, until you reach the desired consistency.
3. Put the oil in a small skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. When it’s hot, add the paste and cook, stirring constantly, until deeply colored and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Serve or cool, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Just before serving, taste and adjust the seasoning.
Thai-Style Chile Paste
Quite complex: Use 2 or 3 dried Thai chiles along with the mild chiles. To the blender or processor, add 1 inch lemongrass, cleaned and chopped, and ¼ cup lightly packed fresh cilantro or basil leaves (preferably Thai).
Vietnamese-Style Chile Paste
Use 2 or 3 dried Thai chiles along with the mild chiles. To the blender or processor, add 3 or 4 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, and ¼ cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves. After cooking, squeeze in the juice of a lime.
Indian-Style Chile Paste
To the blender or processor, add 1 tablespoon garam masala.
Quite complex: To the blender or processor, add 1 tablespoon ground coriander, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, and 1 to 3 cloves garlic. Use extra virgin olive oil.
Mexican-Style Chile Paste
Use all guajillo chiles: To the blender or processor, add 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh epazote, Mexican oregano, or regular oregano.
Hot. Hot. Hot: Use some or all chipotle chiles. Or skip Step 1 and use ⅓ cup canned chipotle chiles with adobo sauce.
Chile and Black Bean Paste
To the blender or processor, add 2 tablespoons fermented black beans; taste the paste before adding any salt.