Move over chipotle, there’s a new chili in town.
From time to time we have had people questioning the authenticity of our Mexican cuisine here at Del Rio. Perhaps because I’m Swedish. But even though I’m not Latino, I did grow up in Texas which is about as close as you can get, both literally and figuratively, and it’s where my life-long love of Latin food began.
Honestly, I still can remember watching a demonstration about making chili on our school’s closed circuit educational TV in the third grade — way before the Food Network.
As soon as my brother was old enough to drive, we would ditch my parents after church and head over to Pancho’s All-You-Can-Eat Mexican Buffet where for $3.49 you could gorge yourself on tacos, enchiladas and sopapaillas. It probably wasn’t even that good, but it was Mexican food, and we loved it. You put it in a tortilla, and we would eat it.
It wasn’t until years later a friend of mine gave me a cookbook that dealt with the different regional cuisines within the country and the ingredients preferred by each. I was hooked.
One of the first things we “discovered” was the chipotle chili. In those days most of us Anglos had never heard of them. But the deep, smoky flavor coupled with substantial heat was both exotic and familiar. We used them in everything — salsas, dressings, marinades, mashed potatoes — you name it.
Soon, everyone was using them. Even Jack-in-the-Box had a campaign spoofing Jack’s inability to pronounce “chipotle.” Today there’s a billion dollar a year chain of burrito restaurants by the same name. So assimilated into our culture is the word “chipotle” that it doesn’t even light up the spell check on my computer.
Always trying to stay ahead of the pack, our latest find is the morita chili. Essentially it’s a smoked red jalapeño, just like the chipotle. The difference being the morita spends less time over the smoke, and subsequently retains more of its natural color and according to some, a fruitier flavor.
The recipe for today is a simple tomato sauce spiked with the moritas. When you blend the sauce you will see how the color of the chili takes over and results in a bright shade of orange. If you like it hot, by all means up the number of chilies. For a milder sauce you can remove the seeds from the chili, but don’t cut back on the number.
We are showing the sauce on a chili relleno, but it works just as well on lots of things like enchiladas or even huevos rancheros. And on Sep. 20 we will be serving it over vegetarian tamales for Virginia City’s first ever Taste of the Town. visitvirginiacitynv.com for info.
It’s been 20 years since that first can of chipotles. Now our shelves are filled with nine or ten varieties of chilies, blocks of spice pastes from the Yucatan, tamarind pods from Central America, a wooden tortilla press and lots of books and periodicals.
As for our authenticity, I like to think it’s not about the color of your skin. It’s about the soul of your kitchen. Hasta la vista!
6 Anaheim chilies, 6 inches in length
8 eggs, separated
1/2 cup of flour
1/4 cup milk
1 t salt
8 ounces of Monterrey Jack cheese, cut into 6 strips, a little shorter than the chilies
flour for dusting
oil for frying
Roast the chilies over an open flame or under the broiler turning them until the skin is blistered all over. Place in a heat proof bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to steam for about 20 minutes. Scrape the blackened skin from the chilies with the back of a knife or a paper towel. Make a small slit at the top of the chili closest to the stem. Using your fingers, scrape out as many seeds as possible without damaging the chili. Place a stick of cheese in each chili.
For the batter, place the yolks in a mixing bowl and stir in the milk and salt. Add the 1/2 cup of flour and stir to a paste. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites to stiff peak. Fold one third of the whites into the yolks to loosen them up a bit. Fold in the remaining whites.
Using a pan with high sides and large enough to accommodate two chilies at a time, add some vegetable oil to a depth of about 1 1/2 inches and heat to shimmering. Drop a small bulb of batter into test the temperature. Dredge the first chili in the flour then dip into the batter. Pick up the chili by the stem allowing some of the batter to run back into the bowl, then gently lay it in the hot oil. Fry on the first side until the edges appear golden. Turn the chili and cook until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining chilies. The chilies can be held in a 200 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or you can let them cool and reheat them in a 325o when ready to serve.
Chili Morita Sauce
Makes about 4 cups
1 2-ounce can of diced tomatoes in juice
1/2 of a medium onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic
2 chilies morita, stems removed*
1/4 cup olive oil for sauteing
Salt to taste
Heat the olive oil in a two or three quart sauce pot. Add the diced onion, whole garlic and chilies, and saute over medium heat until the onion and garlic just start to brown. Add the tomatoes and their juice, and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Working in batches, blend the sauce until smooth. Return the sauce to the pot, and reheat briefly. Taste and adjust the salt. Will store refrigerated for up to three days.
We get them at Centro Market on Highway 50.
Brian Shaw and his wife, Ardie, own Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.