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      RECIPE TITLE "Essential Simmered Tomato-Jalapeno sauce (Salsa de Fitomate Cocida) "
    Recipe from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen: Capturing the Vibrant flavors of a World-Class Cuisine  by Rick Bayless

    ... more great recipes by Rick Bayless on our GREAT CHEFS page!

    yields makes 4 cups difficultyeasy

    You can taste the sear and sizzle in every spoonful of this well-known classic. Here the roasty sweetness of charred tomatoes and blistered chiles are all blended to a rough puree and seared in a hot pan. But why does tradition dictate that we go to the fuss of roasting and frying when a comforting sauce of canned tomatoes (perhaps with the familiar touch of tomato paste) could be slow-simmered with a little diced jalapeño? Because we want the earthy gustiness of Mexico here, not the slow-simmered sweetness of a typical pizza sauce. We're talking inimitable huevos rancheros of energetic tomato-doused sunnyside-up eggs on toasty corn tortillas.

    Choose plum tomatoes for a thicker texture, round tomatoes for a lighter, brothier consistency. This sauce is so versatile you can substitute it for any tomato sauce called for in this book.


    Generous 1 pound (about 2 large round, 8 to 10 plum) tomatoes
    1 to 2 (about 3/4 ounce total) fresh jalapeño chiles, stemmed
    1 tablespoon vegetable oil or rich-tasting lard
    1/2 small (about 2 ounces) white onion, thinly sliced
    1 1/2 cups chicken broth
    Salt, about 1 1/2 teaspoons, depending on the saltiness of the broth


    1. Roasting the tomatoes and chiles. Roast the tomatoes and chiles on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until blistered and blackened on 1 side, about 6 minutes, then use tongs or a spoon to turn them over and roast the other side. Cool, then peel the tomatoes, collecting all the juices. Roughly chop the chiles. Coarsely puree the tomatoes (with juices) and the chiles in a food processor or blender. Pulse the mixture only a few times leaving it quite chunky for huevos rancheros, for instance, or run the machine until the sauce is quite smooth if you're preparing, say, enchiladas.

    2. Cooking the sauce. In a medium (8- to 9-inch) deep, heavy skillet or medium-size (2- to 3-quart) saucepan heat the oil or lard over medium. Add the onion and fry until browned, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, and, when very hot, add the tomato-chile mixture. Stir for 5 minutes or so as the mixture sizzles, darkens and thickens, then reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the broth and let the sauce cook at a gentle simmer for about 15 minutes, until beginning to thicken (though it shouldn't be as thick as spaghetti sauce). Taste and season with salt and it's ready to use.

    Advance Preparation -- This useful sauce can be made several days in advance; it can be frozen successfully but may need to be boiled briefly to look as it did before freezing.

    Shortcuts -- Three-quarters of a 28-ounce can of tomatoes can replace the fresh ones.

    Other Chiles You Can Use -- The same quantity of serranos can replace the jalapeños, as can 1/2 to 1 habanero chile.

    Traditional Dishes that Use this Essential as a Starting Point

    Spicy Tomato-Sauced Enchiladas

    Simple Ideas from My American Home

    Huevos Rancheros -- Steam-heat 8 corn tortillas. Fry 8 eggs sunny-side up. On each of 4 plates, slide 2 eggs onto 2 slightly overlapping warm tortillas, liberally spoon the sauce over everything, then sprinkle with sliced raw onion, chopped cilantro and a little crumbled Mexican queso fresco, queso añejo or Parmesan.

    Layered Tortilla-Ricotta Casserole -- Steam-heat 12 tortillas, smear a little of the sauce over a baking dish, then make 4 "stacks" in the dish: Spread out 4 tortillas, spoon 3 tablespoons of ricotta (seasoned with salt) onto each, sprinkle with some sauteed mushrooms or grilled vegetables and some chopped cilantro or fresh thyme, splash with a little sauce, then repeat the layers of tortilla, ricotta, mushrooms (or vegetables) and sauce. Finish each stack with a tortilla. Spoon sauce on to cover the tortilla well, sprinkle with grated Chihuahua or other melting cheese and bake until they're bubbly and brown.

    Seared Jalapeño Beef Tips -- Make the sauce with beef stock if you have it. In a large, heavy skillet filmed with oil, sear about 1 1/4 pounds of beef sirloin or other steak (cut into 1-inch cubes) over medium-high heat until browned on all sides. Add 2 cups of the sauce, then briskly boil until slightly reduced and the meat is as done as you like it.

    Fresh Jalapeño Chiles

    As my wife Deann says, "Jalapeños are being bred to boredom." The raw flesh of some of the cultivars has as little flavor and heat as a green bell pepper, with the same kind of juicy, grassy qualities. Others will be richer in flavor and medium hot (or more). The bigger ones seem to be blander, and I think their only good use is for stuffing, because it is easy. Jalapeños sold in the Mexican markets are often smaller and more flavorful. If the jalapeños in your recipe are chopped or pickled whole, they could easily be replaced with serranos (and in some instances probably should be, if you like a spicy green-chile zing).

    Jalapeños are found in practically every market in Mexico and most supermarkets in the United States. It's in Veracruz, though, that they have their homeland and grow in the greatest variety You'll find Christmasy red ones, and ones they call gordos (fat chiles), or huachinangos, or cuaresmeños -- locals swear they all taste different, though I think you need to be raised there to get some of the differences. The smallest ones are dried into chile chipotle colorado (also known as chile mora or morita); large ones that dry with a corky covering become chile chipotle meco.

    Stats: An average jalapeño is bell-pepper green (lighter than a poblano), about 1/2 ounce, about 2 1/2 inches long by 3/4 inch wide, the smooth-skinned, torpedo-shaped body (with rounded shoulder) quickly tapering to a point near the end.

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