Classic, fresh salsa—though delicious as a dip or taco topping—can go only so far. Looking to embolden the flavor of that staple during the winter months, we turned to the ancho chili, whose deep, smoky flavor is richer than that of most fresh chilies.
Deep-red anchos are dried ripe poblano chilies. For use when fresh, poblanos are harvested green; to make anchos, they’re allowed to ripen until red, developing sweetness that balances their moderate heat.
Despite their earthy, smoky flavor, anchos can taste a bit like prunes when left alone. But combining them with fresh tomato, garlic and shallot balances their sweetness, and the brightness of the raw ingredients emphasizes the chilies’ smoky notes.
We began by toasting the chilies in a dry skillet, pressing them on both sides to maximize contact for more thorough browning. Once they were a couple shades darker, we soaked them in boiling water to soften and rehydrate them.
We blended the chilies with the aromatics, fresh water (using the soaking liquid makes the salsa bitter) and sugar until nearly smooth.
The resulting salsa retained deep flavor, but the garlic and tomato made it a robust condiment, marinade or rich sauce.