Great for meat, seafood, tacos, enchiladas – or pretty much anything
Pasilla negro chilies – also called pasilla chilies or sometimes chile negro – have deep, haunting flavor. But they’re not too hot for comfort.
Here, we pair them with fire-roasted tomatoes for a tangy sauce. One that’s great on almost any meat (try it with steak), rich seafoods (swordfish, anyone?), or Mexican-style dishes like tacos, enchiladas, and burritos.
You might even be tempted to dip a tortilla chip into it. Go ahead – we won’t tell.
Recipe: Pasilla Negro Chile and Tomato Sauce
This recipe is a sauce rather than a salsa. The difference between the two is somewhat arbitrary, although a salsa tends to be thicker and chunkier. Plus, salsas usually are not cooked at all, while sauces often are.
Pasilla chilies are not overly spicy – they usually walk on the mild side. But their heat can vary from chile to chile, and some may contain more than a hint of heat.
Many grocery stores carry whole, dried chilies. If yours does, they’ll probably stock pasillas (a long chile with dark, wrinkled skin). If your market doesn’t carry them, a Mexican grocery certainly will. Or you can buy them online.
You can make this sauce from dried, ground pasilla chilies, but we prefer to use whole chilies. You do need to soak them in water to rehydrate them, but that takes only 20 minutes.
This recipe takes about 45 minutes from start to finish (this includes rehydrating the chilies).
The sauce will keep for a week or two if refrigerated in an airtight container. Or you can freeze it for up to two months.
This recipe yields about 2 cups.
- ~2 ounces dried whole pasilla negro chilies (about 6 or so)
- hot water (a cup or two, as needed, to rehydrate the chilies)
- ½ cup onion, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 14-ounce can fire-roasted tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon cumin (or more to taste)
- ~1 cup water or chicken stock (beef stock works too)
- salt to taste (optional)
- brown sugar to taste (very optional; see Notes)
- To prepare dried chilies, start by removing their stems, then shaking out as many loose seeds as you can (don’t worry about getting them all – you’ll have another opportunity to do so later).
- Then freshen the flavor of the chilies with a quick application of heat: Place the chilies in a 400-degree F oven for 2 to 3 minutes – just until you notice an aromatic chile fragrance. At that point, remove the chilies from the oven and place them in a small bowl. Add just enough boiling water (or hot tap water) to cover them. If the chilies float to the surface, put a small plate over them to hold them down. Let the chilies soak for 20 minutes (set a timer).
- Meanwhile, peel the onion and slice it roughly. Peel the garlic and chop it roughly. Heat a small frying pan over medium stovetop heat. When it’s hot, add a tablespoon of cooking oil, then add the onion and garlic. Sauté for about 5 minutes. Let the onion and garlic cool, then pour the contents of the frying pan into the jar of a blender.
- Add the fire-roasted tomatoes and the cumin to the blender.
- When your timer goes off, drain the chilies. Wearing gloves, tear the chilies open and remove any remaining seeds, as well as the ribs (it’s the seeds and ribs that give chilies most of their heat; you’re wearing gloves to protect your hands from the hot chile oils). Then tear the chilies into smallish pieces and add them to the blender.
- Whirl the blender to thoroughly pulverize the contents. Add enough water or chicken stock (about a cup for us) to get the sauce consistency you want. Taste the mixture and add salt if necessary.
- Pour the contents of the blender into a small saucepan (some cooks like to strain the mixture first; see Notes). Bring the mixture just to a simmer, then let it cook for 20 minutes to blend all the flavors together. (You don’t want the sauce to boil; a bare simmer is what you’re aiming for.) When done simmering, taste the mixture again, then add salt or cumin if necessary. Add brown sugar to taste if the sauce seems bitter to you (see Notes).
- Use the sauce immediately. Or let the sauce cool and refrigerate it until ready to use (warm before using).
- The consistency of this sauce will be almost (but not quite) “gritty” – though not unpleasantly so. If you want a completely smooth sauce: In Step 7, pour the blended sauce into a fine mesh sieve placed over the sauce cooking pot, then work the sauce through the sieve with a spatula. This should catch most of the “gritty” pieces. Then proceed to simmer the sauce for 20 minutes.
- Some people find chile sauce bitter. If you do, adding a small amount of brown sugar can help. (White sugar or honey works too.)
- Acid or fat can also reduce the bitterness. So we sometimes add a teaspoon or two of lemon juice to chile sauce (this also helps brighten the flavor). Or, if we’re using the sauce over a dish like steak, we might add a dusting of grated cheese (cotija, feta, or even Parmesan). The fat in the cheese helps mellow the sauce.
- Cooking the sauce at the barest simmer (Step 7) also helps reduce bitterness.
- When toasting the chilies (Step 2), don’t overdo it (because that brings out the bitterness). Better too little than too much.
- Don’t want to heat the chilies in the oven? Use a dry skillet instead. Heat the chilies for 20 seconds or so per side (don’t let them burn). If you prefer, you can stem and deseed the chilies first, tear them into big pieces, then heat the pieces in the skillet. Toasting in a skillet provides slightly more flavor, but heating in the oven is much easier. And the flavor difference is pretty small.
- Some versions of this recipe omit the canned tomatoes. Or substitute fresh tomatoes. Or even tomatillos.
- You can also find versions of this recipe that add canned chipotle peppers (one or two, plus some adobo sauce from the can). This will make for a much spicier sauce. (Another way to up the spiciness is to just add some hot sauce or cayenne pepper.)
- Pasilla negro chilies are the dried version of fresh chilacas chilies. They sometimes are confused with ancho chilies, which are the dried version of poblanos. The two chilies do have a somewhat similar flavor profile, though pasillas seem a bit earthier and richer to us. If you can't find pasillas, you can substitute anchos in this recipe if you wish.
- This sauce is great with traditional Mexican-style dishes like tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and burritos. But we particularly like to use it as a sauce for roasted or grilled meats. In one of the pictures that accompany this post, we show it served over grilled flank steak (medium-rare for us). If you want to serve it this way: Just slice and plate the cooked steak, add a large dollop or three of sauce, and then sprinkle on some crumbled or grated cotija cheese. We also like to add radish slices and chopped cilantro or parsley for color and extra flavor.
“Mmm, rich chile flavor,” said Mrs Kitchen Riffs. “Fresh green ones are always good, but dried chilies pack even more savor.”
“Yup,” I said. “That’s pretty much cut and dried. Just like these chilies.”
“Ancho going to stop with those jokes?” said Mrs K R.
“I thought that was a very insightful comment,” I said. “The kind of quality content we add to the interwebs.”
“Don’t let me interfere with your delusions,” said Mrs K R. “I must say, these pasillas are tasty, but not too hot.”
“Indeed,” I said. “Like Argentina, they’re bordering on Chile.”
“That was terrible,” said Mrs K R. “You need to chile out. I’m shutting this down.”
Guess I’ll have to console myself with this delicious sauce. Think I’ll habanero bite.
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