Sometimes the little things remind me how great Chicago is. Chicago is great for places like Next and Grace, for places like Vera and Butcher & Larder, but little things like finding an offbeat chile in your corner bodega really make Chicago special. Each Monday, I race home to take care of the girls. Their mother, my extraordinary wife, works in the evening and I handle child care solo. As part of this duty, I relieve and pay the baby sitter and, as I do, I do not want to rely on her to have change.
With that, I stop at the bodega on the way home and buy something with a cost as near to a dollar as possible (I want change not coins) to break my $20. I pride myself as being in nearly every corner of nearly every wretched grocery aisle in the area, so when I saw chiles de manzana tucked away, I recognized only that I had never seen them, at least in my circles. I picked up just enough to break my $20. As I reached the register, the clerk made sure I knew that they were spicy. I feigned fear. After all, I like heat and these chiles were largish and appeared to be bell-like. I stashed them in the fridge for later use. It wasn’t until the next Monday when I picked up another bunch of them that I actually broke into one.
After opening it up, I noticed that the seeds were black. Not brown, black. That should have told me something. The flesh was meaty far more than habanero and had different texture than hard skinned chiles. I pulsed the chile in the food processor with some herbs and garlic and spread it over my chicken. I was blasted by the heat. So much so that I figured the best use for these, because they were so hot to being nearly inedible, was in hot sauce form. With that in mind, I took the remaining, ground them up, added salt and let them ferment for a month, as I do.
Just days before the month was up, I had some hot sauce at the New Years Eve event at Butcher and Larder. I asked Rob how he did his hot sauce, as it had texture different than mine – it was thick. I used his method and, as the month expired, pureed the chiles in a blender jar adding just enough apple cider vinegar to get the puree moving. I added a little more salt and then to balance with sweetness, I added applesauce – after all, manzana. The next step was to strain the mixture through a sieve, not cheesecloth. This allowed for smoothness without leaving me with a completely liquid hot sauce.
After a week to let the flavors meld, I tried the hot sauce and the heat had not dissipated, but with salt and apple sauce, the sweet fruitiness of the chili was exposed. The shards of black seeds still show up in the sauce which makes for a great visual effect as well.
This unique find in the corner of my bodega reminds me that great things can be found in surprising places. It makes me appreciate the people who take the time to bring these items into their stores not knowing who, if anyone, will buy them, but I really appreciate my city as place where people not only sell these things, but buy them as well.