Here’s the secret to great-tasting Mexican restaurant rice, or what we call New Mexican Red Chile Rice at home–homemade chile paste. Boom, done. Zesty, colorful rice thanks to the chile goes with all kinds of meats, fish, and vegetables, not just Tex-Mex and Hispanic cuisines.
All you have to do is make an occasional batch of chile paste and store it in the freezer. And if you didn’t already, now you know what to do with that wall of bagged dried chile at the supermercado (where there’s likely more chile turnover than at a typical supermarket). Good dried chile is bendable and flexible, not brittle, with a nice sheen to the skin.
We make things easy when making a batch of paste and stick to one kind of chile, usually our favorite New Mexico chile, which are full of flavor and a medium heat. Too hot a chile and there’s not much point to making paste because, unless you can handle super spicy food, you miss out on the flavor of the chile. So, pass on the little Chile de Arbol, Thai Bird chile, and forget about Habanero and Scotch Bonnets. Ancho (dried Poblano pepper), Pasilla (dried Chilaca pepper) and the now fast-food famous Chipotle (dried, smoky Jalapeno pepper) are also a good choice for making a useful paste. Try one variety at a time, then mix and match to develop your own style.
Chile paste is really a non-recipe recipe. It’s just a simple blend of rehydrated dried chile with water. Here’s what to do:
REMOVE the stems and most of the seeds from the dried chile and place in a medium-sized bowl. Pour in enough boiling water to cover the chile. You can help submerge the floating chile with a small plate placed on top. Let the chile rehydrate in the hot water at least 30 minutes.
WHEN cool enough to handle, remove the chile from the bowl and place in a blender or food processor. Do this in batches according to the size of your machine. Add some of the of the chile water to facilitate the pureeing. Add the water in small amounts until you have a nice puree – like the consistency of a smoothie. You’ll have to eyeball it. We usually add a couple of cloves of garlic and some salt to each batch, but that’s optional. Purity is good and then you can flavor whatever dish you’re making with other seasonings.
Now, for the New Mexican Red Chile Rice (Mexican Restaurant Rice), start with cooked and cooled rice and prepare it like fried rice. We like brown Jasmine rice, but use what you want. Saute a diced small onion in a skillet with a little oil over medium heat until softened. Sprinkle in some cumin and cook an additional minute. Stir in the rice (let’s say about 3 cups cooked). Stir spoonfuls of the chile paste into the rice a little at a time and blend well–you’ll probably use a few tablespoons, perhaps a 1/4 a cup. Quit adding when it takes on a nice burnt orange color. Taste and add salt and cumin as needed. Make as much as you need, just start with more onion for a larger batch.
STORE the unused chile in small sealable freezer containers and label with freezer tape and a black marker for easy identification in a full freezer.
What else can you make with chile paste? Here’s a start: You’ll definitely want to start making your chili with it and we’ve got a great recipe. Good chile paste makes a far better chili than chile powder. And, add some paste to your Cheater BBQ Pulled Pork and you’re ready for tacos.