The Extra Step For More Flavorful Homemade Chile Paste

Homemade chile paste is the kind of multi-purpose condiment you will want to make over and over again. Chile paste is made by soaking whole dried chiles in water and blending them into a smooth sauce. It's essentially the liquid version of chile powder, which is distinct from the spice blend chili powder. It's made using the pepper itself, rather than ground spices that can lose their flavor as they sit on the shelf; this allows it to retain the full flavor of chiles and transform the peppers into a convenient, spoonable sauce that can add heat and complexity to a huge variety of dishes.

Getting the most out of your chile paste comes down to a few key factors. The first and most obvious is good chiles. Despite being preserved, dried chiles can still age and lose their flavor, so you want to find "fresh," dried chiles that are still soft and bendable. Brittle chiles that crack when you handle them are likely old and lacking in flavor. It also helps to mix up your blend between a variety of chiles, like ancho and guajillo, to get a more balanced taste that mixes the fruity, acidic, and smoky. Then you want to draw as much flavor from those chiles as possible, which can be done with one simple step.

Toast your dried chiles for maximum flavor

No matter what recipe you are planning on using dried chiles in, toasting them before you blend can draw out a more intense flavor. This can be achieved in a number of ways. The easiest is to toss your chiles in a dry, heated skillet, turning them until they develop a strong aroma. You can also heat up larger amounts of chiles on a sheet tray in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven, once again waiting until you get a clear whiff of toasty chile. 

Either method will produce chiles that are much more vibrant than before, with some nice new flavors from the browning for good measure. Just make sure to keep an eye on them and flip your chiles consistently, because they can go from brown to burnt quickly, and infect your chile paste with bitterness.

Why does toasting chiles make a difference? Like any spice, chiles have some of their flavor trapped in oils in their cells, and it needs heat to draw out the full effect. Heating chiles breaks down the barriers holding in that oil and frees it up to further infuse your chile paste, or whatever dish you are making. Heating up chiles also drives off some of the remaining moisture, further concentrating and intensifying the flavor. It only takes a few minutes, but toasting your chiles will make sure your chile paste is as deep and delicious as it can possibly be.