Friday, June 12, 2009
I have never met a chili I didn’t like, so when a toothless man with a smile wider than the brim of his sombrero beckoned me towards what appeared to be a fort made of dried chilies, I could not resist. He was surrounded by huge plastic sacks of a multitude of varieties of dried chilies and beans. He was also selling beautiful purple heads of garlic, long wands of cinnamon and plump raisins and prunes. I surveyed the goodness and was seduced by the ancho chili.
The ancho chili begins its life as a poblano pepper. The poblano is roughly the same size as your garden variety red pepper, however, it is narrower and pointy at the end. It has a dark green, waxy skin and has a mild and delicious flavor. When dried, this pepper becomes a wrinkled, dark reddish-brown colored pod called an ancho chili (meaning “wide” in Spanish).
Its signature heart-shape is your first clue that a love affair is about to begin. This is a chili that is easy to adore. It is the sweetest in flavor of the dried chilies, giving a mild kick to whatever it is paired with. Do not fear the ancho. Use it with wild-abandon. Toss it whole into soups and braising liquids; crush it up and rub it on grilled meats and fish, or if you are really feeling frisky, sprinkle it into your next bowl of chocolate ice cream – it is that lovable!
Upon arriving home, I decided to spice up the beef tenderloin I had in the fridge with an ancho chili rub. This spice mix has a seductively sweet smell that burns your nose and conjures up memories of a favorite childhood game of seeing how long we could hold a spicy cinnamon candy on our tongue. I served the tenderloin with a delicious cauliflower purée. Puréeing caramelized onions and the ancho cinnamon spice rub along with the cauliflower to compliment the tenderloin – it was divine!
ANCHO CINNAMON SPICE RUB
3-4 large ancho chilies
1 large star anise
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
½ cinnamon stick
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
2. Place all ingredients on a baking sheet and place in oven.
3. Toast until fragrant, or about 15 min. Anchos should be dried
out and slightly brittle, but not burnt.
4. Remove stems and majority of seeds from the anchos.
5. Place all spices in a spice grinder or coffee grinder
and pulverize. May need to be done in batches.
Spice rub can be kept in an airtight container for one month.