Ranchero Sauce

When I was pregnant I had to have huevos rancheros every single weekend for brunch. My husband Aaron grew more than a little tired of it, especially because the place I liked them best in Brooklyn was no larger than our bedroom, which was also typical of Brooklyn: super small. I didn’t even care if they sat us at the table crammed under the heating duct. (Though he did). I was swaying in my chair, big belly bopping, just waitin’ for my huevos rancheros. (When you’re pregnant and stone sober and can’t even drink coffee, the focus of brunch changes. It’s the little thrills, the spicy kicks, that matter.) The fried eggs and pinto beans and fried chorizo are great, but ornamental. It’s the sauce I adore: smoky and just a bit spicy, tangy with vinegar but rich from reducing.

You can’t buy this stuff—not in Brooklyn that I know of, and certainly not in northern Minnesota. So now when the tomatoes are ripe I always make and preserve a few jars, so that when the Saturday morning craving comes along, I can just flip one open. Huevos rancheros lickety-split.

The sauce also makes an awesome marinade/cooking medium for pork shoulder or butt. Score the pork deeply with a knife, rub it with salt and pepper and then add the ranchero sauce (about 1 pint for a 4-pound roast), massaging it into the meat. Marinate overnight. Place in a roaster, add a little water to the bottom of the pot, cover and slow-bake for 4 to 5 hours at 275 degrees, until a fork sinks in softly. Lift the meat to a platter and pour the sauce into a bowl. Degrease the sauce, shred the pork into chunks and mix it into the sauce. Great with soft tortillas, on sopes, or in a sandwich with avocado and cilantro.

And if you want to make huevos rancheros, heat some ranchero sauce in a small saucepan and serve with fried eggs, freshly-heated tortillas, fresh salsa, beans and lots of chopped cilantro. (Chorizo optional.)

Ranchero Sauce, Chiapas-Style

(Mine is a corruption of Diana Kennedy’s sauce for Chiapas Pork)

Yields 4 1/2 pints

13 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
12 cloves garlic
7 dried chiles (mixed bag of piquillo, guajillo, and ancho, heavy on the guajillo)
1 small onion, cut in half
1 teaspoon ground chipotle (or add 1 dried or canned chipotle to the above)
1 red jalepeno (or cayenne to taste)
3 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 Tablespoons white wine vinear
¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 clove
1 cinnamon stick

Remove the tops and most of the seeds from the dried chiles. Place them in a small bowl and cover with boiling water. Let steep until cool.

Toast garlic cloves, in their skins, in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat until brown in spots. Cool and peel.

Toast the cumin and clove in the skillet until fragrant. Mash in a mortar until fine (or use a spice grinder).

Heat a film of canola in the same skillet and quickly brown the onion on both sides.

Place the chilies, spice mix, garlic and onions and a few tomatoes in the blender. Blend on high until smooth, and push through a sieve into a large pot, pushing on the sieve with the back of a ladle to extract liquid. Place the pulp back in the blender for another go-around. Top with tomatoes and blend at top speed until smooth. Strain again, this time discarding the pulp.

Blend the rest of the tomatoes until smooth, pouring them into the pot without straining. Add the salt and sugar and cinnamon stick and cook at a simmer for about 1 hour, or until the sauce thickens and no longer separates.

Ladle the sauce into sterilized glass jars, top with sterilized lids and process 15 minutes in a boiling water bath for pints, 10 minutes for half-pints, 20 minutes for quarts.

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