A Conversation with Rick Bayless

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Celebrity chef Rick Bayless owns several, highly-regarded Mexican restaurants in Chicago, including Frontera Grill and Topolobambo.  He's currently collaborating on Red O, here in Los Angeles.  

Essential Simmered Tomato-Habanero Sauce

Tomate Frito
Makes about 2 cups

1 1/2 lbs (3 medium-large or 9 to 12 plum) ripe tomatoes
1 1/2 Tablespoons rich-tasting lard or olive or vegetable oil
1 small (4-ounce) white onion, thinly sliced
1 fresh habanero chile, halved
Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon

1.   Roast the tomatoes.  The griddle method: Line a griddle or heavy skillet with aluminum foil and heat over medium. Lay the tomatoes on the foil and roast, turning several times, until blistered, blackened and softened, about 10 minutes. Don't worry if some of the skin sticks to the foil.

The broiler method: Lay the tomatoes on a baking sheet and place about 4 inches below a very hot broiler. Roast until blistered and blackened on one side, about 6 minutes; flip the tomatoes and roast the other side.  Cool, then peel, collecting any juices with the tomatoes. Coarsely puree tomatoes and juices in a food processor or blender.

2.   Make the sauce. In a medium-size (2 to 3-quart) saucepan, heat the lard or oil over medium. Add the onion and fry until deep golden, about 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chile halves and simmer 15 minutes or so, stirring often, until nicely reduced but not dry (it should be an easily spoonable consistency). Taste (it will be wonderfully picante and nicely perfumed), season with salt, remove the chile if you want, and it's ready to use.

Advance preparation:  Covered and refrigerated, the sauce will keep for several days; it also freezes well.

Other chiles you can use - jalapenos and serranos (3 to 5) and manzanos (1 to 2) can replace the habaneros.