May 11, 2011

Chile Rub

Chiles: smoked serranos, amarillos, ancho, chipotles

A while back, a friend gave us a gift of a jar of magic. He had painstakingly smoked some chiles, then dried and blended them. At first, we were using it on everything, on steaks for the grill to make tacos, on eggs for breakfast, on roasted veggies. It was so good. I hounded him for the recipe but he hadn't written anything down. He was just winging it and the results were incredible. It had just the right amount of complex heat without being overwhelming, with a layer of smokiness underneath and just a touch of salt. As we got to the bottom of the jar, I started hoarding it. I wanted to take a stab at making some more. We were hooked, we couldn't be without this stuff.

So I decided to try to replicate it. I have to start right off with a confession. Even though my husband has a smoker in the backyard and would love nothing better than to spend a day tending it, we just didn't have time for that this go round. So I knew I'd be looking for an express version using already smoked and dried peppers.

I started out at the Savory Spice Shop. Have you been there yet? It's a goldmine. Owner Karen Aboussie is a gracious and knowledgeable hostess. You can sample any and every herb and spice blend in the house. And she'll tell you to just dust it off your hand into the floor when you're done! At first, it seems very bad manners to make a mess in this pristine new shop, but if you're like me, your curiousity soon gets away from you and your tasting everything in site. It's a delightful way to get inspired. They have everything from vanilla beans to smoked salts to grill blends to freeze-dried corn (which is addictive and great on a Mexican salad as a crouton). Just be forewarned: you'll want to spend some time perusing the shelves. I thought I'd just drop in to pick up a few things and I couldn't tear myself away. They sell spices in any kind of quantity you want, by weight. You can get just a teaspoon in a little plastic ziploc, or you can buy one of their glass bottles.

I've long been a fan of buying bulk spices. They're fresher and more flavorful when you buy in bulk because of faster turnover. And, you can get only the quantity you need. So you won't have a bottleful of something sitting around if you only need a teaspoon. I keep my spices in tins with clear lids. They have magnets on the bottom which stick to the side of the fridge. I love being able to see what's in them all the time. They make for a kind of abstract color swatch art in the kitchen.

Even though I'm in the habit of buying fresher bulk spices at the market, I was impressed by how much fresher the spices were at Savory Spice Shop. There is a noticeable difference. And I hit the jackpot looking for dried chiles there. They have a whole wall of them. I got smoked serranos, amarillos, anchos, two kinds of chipotles and aleppo pepper flakes. I also got oak-smoked salt and hickory-smoked salt. The hickory is more assertive, so use more of that if you want more smoke flavor.

Two cautions on this job: if you have contacts, be sure to use gloves when handling the peppers or you'll be crying (literally) later. And keep the kitchen fan on when you grind these in your spice grinder. I opened the lid one time and got a face full of chile dust. I started sneezing and couldn't stop.

This batch makes a small quantity, a little less than a cup. Next time, I'll be multiplying it and making much more.

Tip: to clean your spice grinder after use, grind some rice into powder in it and then wipe it out. This will clean it off and remove any spice or chile flavors or scents that might remain.

Chile Rub

1 dried amarillo chile
1 ancho chile
6 smoked, dried serranos chiles
2 chipotles
1 teaspoon aleppo peppers
3 teaspoons oak-smoked salt
1 teaspoon hickory-smoked salt

Using gloves, remove the stems and seeds from the whole dried chiles. Cut them into pieces.

Using a spice grinder (coffee grinder used only for spices), grind each individual chile's pieces about 8-12 pulses. I like having some big flakes mixed with smaller bits, so keep an eye on it as you grind to get it the way you like.

After grinding, put the ground chiles, aleppo pepper flakes, and salt in a bowl. Stir to combine and store in a jar.

Yield: a little less than a cup.

Big thanks to Matt for his incredible chile blend and the inspiration!

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