Today we’ve got another sampling from the Sadie’s family, their Red Chile Sauce. Based on the “Carne Adobada” reference on the label, it looks like this one digs deeper in to the lore of New Mexican food to find a product that is probably so rooted in its home culture, that most people might not be sure to do with it without understanding its origins. To get us there, we’ll switch gears for a moment and talk a tiny bit about food safety, specifically prevention of spoiling, a.k.a. preservatives. Long, long ago, prior to the invention of modern refrigeration and freezing, existed this problem in which you would have an animal ready for butchering, but if there weren’t enough people to consume it quickly, or perhaps the animal wasn’t small enough, the idea of keeping that meat fresh any longer than was a challenge.
Various cultures came up with various ways to handle this issue; for example, the popular Scottish and Irish dish Corned Beef is beef submerged in a brine to preserve it. One of the methods that still exists to this day, popularized by the Spanish, was the use of adobo, which essentially is the use of vinegar, spices and chile peppers to submerge the meat for preservation. Arguably the world’s first hot sauce, it’s acidic properties from the vinegar prevented bacterial growth by essentially pickling the meat, and the peppers and spices components helped to offset any unfavorable flavors of that not so fresh meat. This method was spread out across the world to the various Spanish colonies, and you’ll see traces of it that still exist to today. Many of you will be familiar with the canned chipotle peppers in adobo sold in grocery stores, or you might be familiar with the dish from the Philippines called Adobo, with both examples owing some lineage back to the original Spanish adobo preservation method. Through the Spanish colonies in Mexico and in to New Mexico flowed this use of adobo, and with the advent of more modern methods of food preservation, the use of adobo in general dies off a fair bit, but something else happens in New Mexico. They enjoy the flavors from the old method and decide to make it their own. They twist up the recipe a bit, reducing or eliminating the vinegar component. Now that refrigeration is more common, this new “carne adobada” (or more known locally in NM by the term “carne adovada”) is born, and they start using as a meat marinade and general sauce for all sorts of meat dishes. As many of the flavors of Southwest cuisines have migrated to other parts of the U.S. by homesick New Mexicans, I’d venture to say that a dish of carne adovada is a top 5 comfort food for anyone who was grew up there and lives elsewhere now, especially those from the Sante Fe area. Now that you’ve gotten some background on this sauce, let’s test it out and see what we have here.
We’ve talked a lot about the origin story, so I’ll keep this short and sweet and just list out the ingredients. Here’s what’s in the mix: Red chili peppers, potato starch, salt, garlic, spices, citric acid.
This bright red, moderately thick sauce shows lots of chilehead promise, as it looks like a pretty through blending of primarily chile peppers. The aroma definitely matches up with the ingredients list, scented heavily with chiles, with a background of garlic and paprika. If I had to guess, I’d say there is a blend of a few de arbol chiles and guajillo chiles and a whole lot of red New Mex chiles in here.
While not the most adventuresome in the respect of ingredients, this sauce does quite well at proving that keeping it simple and focusing on a consistent and balanced flavor profile can pay off in the end. The flavors of the chile peppers are the bulk of the flavor here, but it’s blended quite well, so that you get a bit of the sweetness from the chiles (after all, they are the fruit of the plant), but then there is that earthy warm component from some of the other chiles, with savory notes from the garlic and spices. It’s a sauce that is great for the home cook, being ideally suited for the carne adovada, but could easily be used in a variety of fashions to make a variety of dishes from New Mexico, Mexico or Tex-Mex cuisines. I’ll give this a Nice flavor rating and a Mild heat rating and advise you to get a jar of this and some pork, and make yourself some carne adovada or cube it up and do a quick tacos al pastor cheat. It’s arguably one of the most simple and versatile cooking sauces for Southwest cuisines that I’ve seen in a while.