Real Recipes From Real Home Cooks ®

south-of-the border essentials: chili paste

Recipe by
Andy Anderson !
Wichita, KS

Chili paste is a staple of most good South-of-the-Border recipes. You can buy it in a jar, but what fun is that? By making your own, you get to choose the peppers you want and, at the same time, eliminate all those nasty preservatives. It is easy/peasy to make and I usually whip up a batch using chilies that match the recipe that I am working on. FYI: The main image is some Mexican BBQ Ribs, using this chili paste in the sauce recipe. So yummy. So, you ready… Let’s get into the kitchen.

yield serving(s)
prep time 30 Min
cook time 5 Min
method Stove Top

Ingredients For south-of-the border essentials: chili paste

  • 2 oz
    dried chilies, more on this later
  • 3 clove
    baked garlic
  • 1 lg
    lime, just the juice
  • 2 tsp
    sugar, white granular
  • 1/2 tsp
    salt, kosher variety, fine grind
  • 1/4 tsp
    ground cumin
  • water as needed
  • 1 Tbsp
    olive oil, extra virgin variety
  • 1/2 tsp
    balsamic vinegar

How To Make south-of-the border essentials: chili paste

  • 1
  • 2
    You will need a saucepan, and blender to make this recipe. The blender can be a regular blender, stick blender, or a food processor fitted with an S-Blade. You could, of course, go "old school" and use a mortar and pestle, but that seems like a lot of work.
  • 3
    Storage of homemade condiments and spices Because homemade spices and condiments do not contain any preservatives, it is important to store them properly. Non-reactive (glass) containers with tight-fitting lids are a must. If I am making a dry spice, I love to use old spice bottles that I have run through the dishwasher. If I am doing homemade sauces, I love using Weck jars. They are all glass, come in all sizes and shapes, and have excellent leakproof lids. If you shop online, you can go to Amazon, and type in “Weck Jars” and you will find a ton of them. Dry spices should be kept in a cool space, away from sunlight (spice cabinet), and sauces, in most cases, should be stored in the fridge. If properly stored, this chili paste should last 4 - 6 weeks.
  • 4
    Baked Garlic I love what baking does to garlic… it mellows the flavor and creates an awesome ingredient that enhances so many diverse dishes. I use it so much in catering that I usually bake 15 or more heads of garlic at a time, and then save them for when needed. If you do not wish to use baked garlic, you can use regular minced cloves, but cut the amount in half. Here is the recipe that I use… it is easy/peasy:
  • 5
    Chili Peppers The peppers you choose will determine the overall heat and flavor of your chili paste. To help you out, I have compiled a list of chili peppers; along with their flavor and heat level, measured in Scoville units. Consider this list a work in progress. You will notice that Bell Peppers (the first on the list), have no heat at all, while the Scorpion Chilies are up to 800,000. I tried some Scorpions once in a chili paste and woke up at hospital two days later and could not remember my name :-) Keep in mind, when you get into chilies this hot, a very little goes a looooong way. You have been warned. This recipe calls for 2 ounces (50g) of chilies, and while that may not seem like a lot, remember we are using dried chilies, and they do not weigh very much. As a matter of fact, after processed you should have 7 – 8 ounces of chili paste. As for working with most peppers, gloves are recommended. Bell Peppers, earthy flavor 0 Aji Paprika, mild, earthy Up to 500 Pepperoncini 100-500 Aji Panca, mild and fruity, poblano-esque 500-1,500 Red Anaheim-sweet, fresh form of New Mexico Chilies 500-1,500 Poblano 500-2,500 Mulato, chocolate/licorice-like flavor 500-2,500 Organic New Mexico, dried red Anaheim peppers 500-2,500 New Mexico, dried red Anaheim peppers 750-1,250 Organic Aji Panca, mild and fruity, poblano-esque 1,000-1,500 Green Anaheim, immature fresh New Mexico Chilies 1,000-1,500 Ancho, dried poblanos 1,000-1,500 Pasilla Negro, good in moles 1,000-2,000 Guajillo, mild flavor, some heat 2,500-5,000 Jalapeño, some heat, grassy-earthy flavor 2,500-8,000 Red Fresno, good in sauces & soups 2,500-10,000 Puya, similar flavor to Guajillo, spicy 5,000-8,000 Organic Chipotle Morita, smoked, dried Jalapeño 5,000-10,000 Yellow Caribe, great baked or in soups 5,000-15,000 Aji Amarillo, essential in Peruvian food 5,000-25,000 (continued in next step)
  • 6
    Brown (Meco) Chipotle. smoky & spicy 7,000-18,000 Chipotle Morita, smoked, dried Jalapeño 7,000-25,000 Urfa Biber, sweet, citrusy & smoky 7,500 Cascabel-round, with seeds that rattle 8,000-12,000 (continued in next step) Smoked Serrano, savory, not fruity heat 8,000-22,000 De Arbol, similar to cayenne 15,000-30,000 Japones, medium-strength Asian chile 15,000-36,000 Organic Aji Amarillo, essential in Peruvian food 40,000-50,000 Pequinspicy, hint of citrus, sweetness 40,000-50,000 Aji Limo Rojo, organic, slightly sweet, crisp 50,000-60,000 Tepin, powerful but brief heat 50,000-70,000 Fresh Thai, available red or green ~50,000-100,000 Dried Thai, used in Thai, Chinese cooking 50,000-100,000 Aji Cereza, milder substitute for Habaneros 70,000-80,000 Habanero, very hot, fruity/floral flavor 100,000-200,000 Organic Habaner, overly hot, fruity/floral flavor 100,000-300,000 Scotch Bonnet Chilies, similar heat to Habanero 75,000-325,000 Ghost Chilies, very hot, slight smokiness 300,000-400,000 Scorpion Chilies, incredibly hot Up to 800,000
  • 7
    Where is the Heat? If you want less heat, a lot of chefs will instruct you to remove the seeds from the pepper(s). In saying that they are implying the seeds are the source of the fire. Understand that removing the seeds will help a bit; however, they are not where the “real” heat of a pepper resides. The truth is, a pepper’s intensity originates from the pith (membrane) and the ribs, not the seeds. Capsaicin, which is the chemical compound that holds all that fiery heat, is concentrated in the inner membrane of white pith and the ribs. The reason removing the seeds lowers the heat a bit, is simply because the seeds are in contact with the membrane, and some of the capsaicin rubs off. But the seeds do not contain any capsaicin of their own; hence, no heat. So, if you really want to tame the beast, go ahead and remove the seeds, but do not forget to scrape out the membrane, and cut out the ribs. Note on dry peppers: You can remove the seeds and cut out the ribs (I use a pair of kitchen shears), but it is almost impossible to remove the membrane, simply because it has dried and attached itself to the wall of the pepper. Removing the membrane is more for working with fresh peppers.
  • 8
    Gather your ingredients (mise en place).
  • 9
    Cut off the top of the peppers and shake out the seeds. Removing the ribs is up to you. Cut or tear them up, place into a bowl
  • 10
    Pour boiling water over them until they are covered.
  • 11
    Let them steep for 15 – 20 minutes.
  • 12
    Drain them using a colander but save the water in a bowl and reserve.
  • 13
    Add them to your blender, then add all the other Chili Paste ingredients.
  • 14
    Give them a few 1-second bursts, then start adding the reserved chili water, about a tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency. I wound up adding about 4 tablespoons of water.
  • 15
    Some chefs like their chili paste thick, almost like a tomato paste; however, I like mine almost pourable. Up to you.
  • 16
    Add the olive oil to a saucepan over medium-low heat.
  • 17
    When the oil heats up, add the chili paste, and stir constantly for about 5 minutes.
  • 18
    Stir in the scant 1/2 teaspoon of balsamic, remove from heat, then allow to cool.
  • 19
    Store in a suitable container (see notes of proper storage above), and place in the fridge until needed.
  • 20
    These are the chilies I used for this batch of Mexican BBQ ribs (pictured at the top). They gave the brisket a mild heat with a hint of smoke.
  • 21
  • 22
    Use in all things South-of-the Border. Enjoy.
  • Stud Muffin
    Keep the faith, and keep cooking.