Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ancho Chile Salmon with Poblano Rice

Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."  In a related story, every single time I cut or handle chile peppers I mindlessly rub my eyes and an epic burning sensation ensues.  What makes this extra unfortunate is that Meghan and I cook with hot chiles all the time.  And, of course... last night's dinner was no different. 

With our fridge bare after a long weekend visiting friends, I stopped by the Nassau Street Seafood & Produce Co. and picked up a little over half a pound of salmon for dinner.  After a week of hearty fall squashes, meats, and potatoes, we were craving something spicy, so I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen.  Rick Bayless is the renowned Chicago-based chef of Frontera Grill focused on introducing Americans to authentic Mexican cuisine.  His recipes are easy to follow and completely accessible for most kitchens.  The most interesting aspect of his cookbook is his emphasis on "essentials".  There are a nice assortment of sauces, salsas, and pastes that can be prepared in advance and used in a variety of subsequent dishes.  The essential in this dinner is Bayless's "Sweet-and-Spicy Ancho Seasoning Paste" we served it over broiled salmon, "Green Poblano Rice", and lightly-sauteed chard.

The ancho chile sauce itself has a great raw, earthy edge to it.  The toasted garlic & chiles offer a unique flavor that I wasn't expecting.  The sauce is sweetened a bit before using it as a marinade and that sweet-and-spicy combination adds a richness and warmth to the salmon without overpowering it.  The green poblano rice turned out to be one of the most flavorful rices I've ever cooked, and since it's so simple I expect to keep going back to it often.  Simmering the poblanos helps to extract a lot of flavor while removing some of the harsh, firey spice.  The peppers combined with a flavorful broth added just enough complexity to a dish that's typically a simple afterthought in this household.  Don't hesitate to add a bit of the ancho paste to the rice for a welcome smokiness. We served the rice and salmon with a side of bitter greens (e.g. arugula, chard, etc.) sauteed in olive oil with garlic and salt.

Sweet-and-Spicy Ancho Seasoning Paste:
  • 1/2 lb salmon
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 4 dried ancho chiles (or other dried chiles: chipotle, guajilo, etc)
  • ~3/4 tsp of dried oregano (preferably Mexican oregano)
  • ~1/4 tsp of black pepper
  • dash of cumin seeds
  • dash of ground cloves (1 or 2 whole cloves)
  • 1/3 cup of broth
  • 1 tsp salt
Roast the unpeeled garlic in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat turning occasionally until soft, approximately 15 minutes.  Let the garlic cool, peel and roughly chop it.  De-stem and de-seed the dried chiles, and lay them flat on the skillet.  Press flat with a metal spatula for 10-20 seconds and then flip them and toast the other side. Rehydrate the toasted chiles in hot water for 30 minutes.  Combine the dry spices in a spice grinder or morter and then transfer it to a food processor along with the drained chiles and garlic.  Add the broth and pulse the mixture into a smooth puree and season it with salt.

Broiled Salmon with Ancho Paste
Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen
  • 3 tbsp sweet-and-spicy ancho paste
  • 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp + a splash of balsamic vinegar
Add the brown sugar and balsamic to the chile paste and marinate the salmon for 5 minutes.  Place the salmon on a baking sheet, coat with the sweet-and-spicy marinade, and place under a warm broiler for 4 minutes.  Flip the salmon, coat with the remaining sauce, and broil for another few minutes until the salmon flakes easily under pressure.

Green Poblano Rice
  • 1 cup medium-grain rice
  • 1 2/3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 fresh poblano chiles, seeds removed, roughly chopped
  • large handful of cilantro sprigs, including stems
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Combine the broth and chiles in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.  Pour the mixture into a food processor (a blender is better if it's very liquidy still), add the cilantro, and process into a smooth puree.  Heat the olive oil and add the onions and rice, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and heat for an additional minute.  Add the chile broth to the rice and heat the covered mixture over low heat for 15 minutes, or until the rice is tender.