This is the stuff of legends, my friends.
I use this in just about everything I cook, from traditional Peruvian dishes to many of my wacky throw-together meals. Why? Because it makes everything taste that much better. Think of chipotle peppers. You know how they can transform a ho-hum thing into an omg-that’s-delicious thing? That’s what this is.
In Peru, they use ají panca, a dried red chile pepper to make ají colorado. It can be a little difficult to find in the U.S. unless you have a very well-stocked Latin American market by you. Fortunately, by the blessings of gods, I can score it just down the road from me at the local mercado. If you just can’t find it no matter where you look, you can buy it online here.
Or, you can do what my parents have done for years, and that is use dried California or New Mexico chiles instead of ají panca.
The flavors are fairly similar across the board, with California being the mildest and having a fruity, raisin-like taste, New Mexico having an earthier, richer flavor with a bit more spice, and ají panca with a combination of both California + New Mexico flavors with added heat. Now that I can get my hands on ají panca regularly, it’s typically my first choice when making ají colorado but really, the flavor difference with the other chiles is minimal and it won’t affect the recipe.
Speaking of which, here are a couple ideas to get you started on your enriched life as an ají colorado aficionado –
// Do you like birds? Here’s a yummy recipe for a Peruvian-style roast chicken.
// How about sausage? I mix ají colorado with lentils + kielbasa for this killer stick-to-your-ribs comfort meal.
// Empanadas! Make these and your friends will love you forever.
// One of the first things I learned to make: Chupe de camarones, a creamy, flavorful soup laden with shrimp, hard boiled eggs, corn on the cob + cheese.
Those should keep your tummy happy for a while.
Are you ready to begin your journey to eternal happiness?
Makes about 14 tablespoons or 1 ice cube tray’s worth
1 – 2-3 ounce bag dried ají panca, California, or New Mexico dried chiles
Use kitchen shears to lop off the stems of the dried chiles and then cut all along the side, lengthwise, exposing the innards and discarding the seeds and membranes. Grab a large fry pan and set it over high heat. Toss the chiles onto the hot pan and toast until fragrant, pliable, and slightly charred, about 1-2 minutes, flipping on other side halfway in between. It might be a good idea to open up the window and turn on the exhaust fan because these can get sort of strong as they cook. Also, wash your hands thoroughly with warm soapy water immediately after handling the chiles.
Put the chiles into a large bowl and pour enough boiling water to submerge them. Let them reconstitute until they’re very soft, about 10 minutes.
Grab the chiles with tongs and put them in a blender. Add about 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons of the water they were sitting in and blend together until a somewhat smooth paste forms. The consistency should be pourable. If it’s too chunky, add more water, one tablespoon at a time.
At this point you can either put all of it into a glass jar and refrigerate it, which should last you a couple weeks.
Or, you can do what I do and measure out tablespoon amounts, put them into ice cube trays, freeze them, and then dump them out into a bag to stash in the freezer for whenever you need just a bit. This works out especially well for me. You don’t even have to defrost it before adding it to your pot of cooking, you just toss it right in. Unless, you’re using it as a marinade, in which case you’d have to toss it in the micro for half a minute to soften slightly.
It’s as easy as that folks. Trust me when I say that adding just a tablespoon of this stuff to your food will drastically enhance the flavor, making you the best cook in town.