Thursday, 22 November 2012

A Real Oaxacan Smoked Chile Paste: Gran Luchito (product review)

This is possibly the most exciting Mexican product to arrive in the UK since I’ve lived here: a real Oaxacan smoked chile paste called Gran Luchito.

It’s exciting not only because it’s delicious - which it is - but because it used to be available pretty much in only one part of Mexico.

Gran Luchito is made in Oaxaca, a state in the south of Mexico (bordering Guatemala). Oaxaca is one of the culinary capitals of Mexico and is world-famous for its distinctive regional cuisine, including chiles so rare they aren’t even widely available in the rest of Mexico, let alone all the way across the Atlantic.

Chief among these is the pasilla de Oaxaca, a smoked chile exclusive to the region. I’ve read about this chile many times, in many books. They all say the only place to get it is a market stall in Oaxaca - if you’re lucky, because it’s becoming increasingly rare.

The elusive pasillas de Oaxaca.

You can’t just nip down to Tijuana and pick up some of these chiles. They ain’t there. But they are the star ingredient in Gran Luchito.

So how does it taste?

Gran Luchito is a smoked chile paste, somewhat like a chipotle paste, but much deeper and more complex.

It has a gorgeous aroma, and because it’s sweetened with agave nectar (agave is the plant from which mezcal and tequila are made) rather than sugar, the sweetness is more natural and subtler than that of commercial chipotle pastes, which tend to use refined sugar.

Heat-wise it’s at least as hot as a chipotle paste, which most people seem to rate as 7/10. I can’t quite decide whether I think it’s slightly hotter, because for me chile heat takes a backseat to chile flavour, which Luchito has in spades.

I’m a guy who LOVES chipotles, but Luchito could honestly make you switch.

How do you use it?

The producers advertise its versatility, because it can be used on its own or as an ingredient in other dishes.

On its own I like to spread it on toast or a warm tortilla. It can really liven up a sandwich as well. I also mixed some in with my homemade Sikil p’ak (Mayan pumpkinseed and tomato sauce) for a Yucatecan/Oaxacan fusion.

Mixing some Luchito into a sauce or mole will give it a beautiful, smoky dimension, and it would be an incredible marinade for roasting or grilling meat.

You can also transform it into a delicious salsa by simply blending a tablespoon or two with a of couple roasted tomatoes and one or two cloves of garlic.

Don’t overdo the garlic because there’s already some garlic in Luchito, and make sure you blend to a rough, textured consistency.

This salsa will blow your mind, and it's great for dipping or to spoon on top of tacos or other dishes.

You can also substitute tomatillos for the tomatoes (if you have some). The contrast between the smokiness of the Luchito and the tartness of the tomatillos is incredible.

The other great thing about Luchito is that’s it’s easy to use. Many, many Mexican recipes call for you to make your own chile paste, usually by toasting dried or smoked chiles in a dry pan, soaking them in boiled water, and then grinding or blending them down. Luchito have basically done that for you.

Así se hace en México. They grind the chiles with a metate so you don't have to!

As making a chile paste is one of the more labour-intensive steps in making a sauce or mole, having a jar of Gran Luchito means you can have a authentic Mexican meal midweek. And how can you not be amazed by the possibility of cooking with authentic Oaxacan flavours after work on a Wednesday?

Now, I like to be balanced in my reviews, so I tried to think of any negatives, but I really can't. This is just a delicious and exciting product and I'm amazed that we can actually get this here in the UK.

So where do you get it?

Probably the easiest way is online from Gran Luchito’s website. (They also sell dried pasillas de Oaxaca. Awesome!)

Or you can check your local Mexican deli, grocer, or shop (if you’re lucky enough to have one near you).

I’ll be ordering another jar of this shortly, as well as some of the dried chiles (which I need to make mole negro). And a lot of my chipotle-based recipes are already becoming Luchito recipes.

MexiGeek can’t go to Oaxaca, but Oaxaca has come to MexiGeek!