Let me tell you one thing before I tell you all about this amazing Ancho chile sauce for chicken.
Years ago I got one of my best pieces of culinary advice. When I was starting out as a professional cook, a friend told me to keep a notebook of the best recipes I came upon. And more importantly, she said I f there’s even only one good recipe in a cookbook, then it’s worth buying.
Do you ever buy a cookbook for just one recipe?
This recipe alone was worth the price of a cook book. It’s one of those life-changing recipes you’ll want to keep forever, and you will make it over and over again.
Chicken in Ancho Chile sauce is one of those recipes that made me become obsessed with Mexican food. Well, I had thought I was already obsessed with Mexican food having grown up in Southern California.
But that’s not really true Mexican food. That’s Southern California Mexican food. And you will know the difference after you cook this and some other recipes from this book.
Once you’ve learned to make this sauce, it can also be used in ancho chile enchiladas, or used with shredded chicken meat for ancho chile tacos or ancho chile tamales. After you’ve prepared this recipe, you’ll know how to use ancho chiles and make an amazing Mexican sauce.
The pages on this Rick Bayless’ cookbook it’s from are stained with spots from having it open many times, and the split binding means the pages will come loose soon. That’s how good it is. And fortunately, this cookbook has even more than one of those “keep forever” recipes.
You can make this with a whole cut up chicken, or chicken thighs or breasts, which ever is your preference. Mine is to use a whole butchered chicken, browned nicely piece by piece, and then nestled to cook in the rich sauce.
When I first started making the sauce, I thought it tasted off and something was wrong with the recipe. You will get some bitterness and a lack of flavor in the first 30 minutes or so of cooking.
But don’t despair, because as it cooks the flavors develop and it becomes an amazingly unctuous, silky sauce that is great with the fall-off-the-bone tender chicken. It’s great for soaking up with some warm tortillas. You can also spoon it over some tasty Mexican rice.
Find your Ancho chile peppers in the Latin section of major supermarkets, and in Latin markets or on the web. They often come packaged, but in some places you can still find them loose. Ancho chiles are actually a Poblano pepper that has been allowed to ripen to red and then is sun dried. Ancho chiles are not the same as pasilla, california, or other chiles, so please don’t make a substitution.
Ancho chiles should feel leathery and dry to the touch, and be only slightly, if at all brittle. They are a mahogany/plum color and have a heavily wrinkled appearance. When ready to use, tear out the stem, open the chile with your hands, and remove the seeds inside before toasting them.
Once you’ve prepared the chiles and spices, grinded them up, and blended them well, strain the sauce. But if you have a Vitamix or Blendtec blender, you can certainly blend it finely enough that you won’t need to strain it.
I would highly recommend one of these if you don’t already have one. It’s the most used appliance in my kitchen.
Be sure to thoroughly brown the chicken for deep flavor. Then, and this is the key to this recipe and the method you need I want you to learn, cook the chile ancho sauce down. It sounds kind of weird, but many Mexican sauces are fried.
Over medium high heat, add a good portion of oil to the pan (or use what’s leftover from browning the chicken), and add the sauce to the hot pan. It should bubble and spit quite a bit while you stir it quickly.
This is not a simmer. Don’t step away to let it boil on its own. You must stir constantly over medium heat while the sauce cooks down and thickens to it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Turn the heat down after about 2 minutes and continue to cook down until the sauce has darkened and thickened. Only then can you add some chicken stock and thin it down.
At that point, add back in the chicken, add the potatoes, and reduce the heat and cook on medium low until all the pieces are fork tender and the potatoes are done.
To finish, you will add in the baby spinach. Stuff it in there and get it to wilt in the sauce, then cover the lid until it’s just cooked down to soft. At that point, it’s ready to serve.
Be aware, this is a spicy dish, but can vary depending on your chiles. It ranges from very little spiciness to a decent full frontal assault that quickly descends into a mildly spicy and tolerable comfort zone for most people. If you love Mexican but want something a little less spicy, try our Easy One Dish Mexican Achiote Rubbed Pork!
If you try this recipe, let us know by leaving a comment, rating it, and tagging a photo #thestraightdish on Instagram.
- 1 whole chicken cut into pieces
- 8 whole chile anchos seeded and toasted
- 2 cloves ground
- 1 teaspoon cumin ground or seeds freshly toasted
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano ok to sub regular oregano if you can't find mexican
- 4 cloves garlic roasted
- 1 pound fingerling or baby potatoes cut in 1" pieces
- 1 pound baby spinach
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 white onion cut crosswise in rings for garnish
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds for garnish
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
Season chicken well and, using 1/4 cup of the oil, brown well on each side 5-6 minutes in a dutch oven or cast iron pot, cooking in batches if needed. You don't need to cook chicken through at this point.
Chop potatoes in halves or quarters, depending on their size, down to approximately 1" pieces. Hold in water to prevent them turning gray.
Meanwhile, prepare chiles. Remove the stems and seeds first. Heat a saute pan over medium high heat. Using a pair of tongs, press each chile down on the pan until it blisters and bubbles form. Alternatively, hold chiles over a gas flame or electric burner on high until they just barely smoke and blister. Don't hold them too close.
Once all chiles have been toasted, soak in 2 cups hot water for 20-30 minutes, ensuring they're fully submerged. Discard water after soaking. Chiles will be soft and pliable after soaking.
To prepare garlic, place on a hot pan for a few minutes on each side until skin is browned. Remove, allow to cool and peel.
Place spices, garlic, and chiles in a blender with 2 cups of the chicken stock. Blend thoroughly for at least 2 minutes. If too thick, add a bit of water until mixture will run smoothly through blades. Strain through a metal strainer. If using a Vitamix or Blendtec, you can skip the straining step if desired.
Over medium high heat in dutch oven or cast iron pot, add the remaining oil and heat until shimmering and nearly smoking. Quickly pour in the sauce mix. Stirring constantly, cook 2-3 minutes until it darkens and thickens. Add in remaining chicken stock.
Add back in chicken pieces and chopped potatoes. Cover and simmer over medium heat 45 minutes, checking occasionally and turning if needed.
When chicken is done and fork tender, add in baby spinach, pressing it down into the sauce. Cover and cook until it just wilts. Add in batches if pot is too full, letting each batch wilt before adding another.
Add cider vinegar to the sauce and stir to combine. Serve and garnish with sliced raw onions and sesame seeds.