As I penned the review of Los Chingones that appeared in the September issue, I sent a nostalgic email to friends about a Mexican dinner party we threw in 2000. Apparently it was a welcome trip down memory lane. Their instant responses reminded me that in order to host 24 friends in our Tribeca loft we had to use kitchen towels for napkins, an overturned box as a chair, and enough borrowed dishes for each guest to have a real plate. Long before Pinterest, I recruited my roomies to jam place cards into pieces of cactus paddle that ran the length of our crowded, pieced-together table.
Despite hauling countless grocery bags home from Kalustyan’s, Dean & Deluca, and the late Kitchen/Market for weeks leading up to that dinner, I still managed to be memorably in the weeds when guests arrived that evening. The spicy ancho sauce for Rick Bayless’ enchiladas callejeras was dripping from my wrists to my elbows as I raced to finish rolling some 60 enchiladas. With fingertips stained from the blackened skin of hand-peeled chiles, I gingerly hugged my college buddies and their freshly manicured girlfriends.
Ultimately, it was an epic night and there’s little I’d change. But if I could go back in time with just one menu addition, it might just be Troy Guard’s guajillo salsa. The chef-restaurateur was recently kind enough to share his recipe. “It’s all the flavors that I really love,” Guard says, “I was just messing around and it came out awesome.”
I may not be able to time travel, but if salsa alone can remind me of such a storied night, you can bet I’ll be making this complex, addictive sauce every chance I get.
Los Chingones Guajillo Salsa (Makes 5 ½ quarts)
¼ pound (about 16) dried guajillo chile peppers
¼ pound (about 8) dried pasilla chile peppers
10 dried arbol chile peppers
1 2-ounce head of garlic, cloves separated but papery skins left on
2 pounds (about 3 medium) white onions, cut into thumb-thick slices and peeled
4 pounds tomatillos, husked and rinsed in warm water
2 pounds Roma tomatoes
4 cups canola, soybean, or rice-bran oil, plus additional for drizzling
5 serrano chiles, stems removed but seeds left intact
½ pound (4 to 12, depending on size) jalapeños, stems removed but seeds left intact
4 cups (about 2 bunches) roughly chopped cilantro
½ cup light agave nectar
½ cup fresh squeezed lime juice (about 9 limes)
3 tablespoons green Tabasco
¼ teaspoon fresh ground cumin
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups reserved chile water
Place a medium saucepan full of water over high heat. While bringing to a boil, use kitchen scissors to snip off the stem of each guajillo chile. Then, cut down one side of the chile and open it up into a flat, leathery sheet. Scrape off the seeds and discard. When the water simmers, add the chiles and cook for 3 minutes, just until rehydrated and soft. Remove the chiles from the water and set both aside to cool.
Set a large, ungreased skillet or cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the pasilla and arbol chiles to the dry pan and toast. Turning the chiles occasionally, cook them just until they begin to swell up and their skin begins to bubble and change color but is not yet black, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the chiles from the pan to cool. Once comfortable to handle, pull off their stems and remove the seeds.
In the same dry pan used to roast the chiles, blacken the garlic. Over medium heat, add the cloves to the pan and cook until the papery skins are dark brown but not black on all sides, about 10 minutes. Allow to cool and peel.
Line this same pan with aluminum foil, matte-side towards the food. Working in single-layer batches, char onion slices over medium-high heat, turning carefully until both sides are golden and dark brown but not black and the onion is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Gently peel the onions away from the foil and allow them to rest. Repeat this process with the second batch of slices.
Set oven to broil. Place tomatillos and tomatoes on a large baking sheet and drizzle with just enough oil to keep them from sticking to the pan, about 2 tablespoons. Gently tilt the pan to coat evenly. Roast under the broiler, turning once, until the skins are cracked and blackened, about 12 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and cover loosely with foil for 5 minutes.
Working in batches, use a blender (or a high-sided pot and a hand-blender) to begin combining the ingredients. Using a spatula to scrape any juices that have collected, combine the chiles, garlic, onion, tomatillos, and tomatoes. Add 4 cups of oil, the serranos, jalapeños, cilantro, agave nectar, lime juice, green Tabasco, and cumin and pulse until the ingredients are chopped and combined, but still chunky and not over over-pureed. Stir in the salt to taste.
As the salsa cools it will thicken. Add up to 2 cups of reserved chile water if you prefer a thinner salsa.
Follow Stacey Brugeman on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter@denveromnivore.