What Is Caldillo Sauce?

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Caldillo sauce, also known as caldillo de jitomate, is a thin tomato sauce from Mexico's Oaxaca region. Caldillo means "soup" in Spanish, indicating the thin consistency of the topping. The sauce represents the essence of cooked fresh tomatoes, infused with the flavors of Mexico. Caldillo sauce tops chile rellenos, a traditional fried, stuffed-pepper dish. It also makes a savory dipping sauce for tortilla-wrapped sandwiches, or a base for spicy soups.

Caldillo Construction

  • Caldillo sauce traditionally starts with juicy, fresh plum tomatoes. The sauce's flavor components come from hot, earthy and sweet aromatics, such as Mexican oregano, cloves, thyme, garlic, cinnamon, chili peppers, onions, peppercorns, salt and bay leaves. Sugar is sometimes included if the quality of the tomatoes is in doubt, as with canned tomatoes. The best caldillo sauce incorporates four stages -- cooking the tomatoes and aromatics together, pureeing the cooked tomatoes, straining the solids and frying the sauce.

Extracted Essence

  • Some caldillo recipes call for simply blending chopped, fresh tomatoes with the other ingredients, then straining the sauce and simmering it. To bring out the most flavor and juice from the tomatoes, however, it's helpful to cook chopped tomatoes in a saucepan with the aromatics. The tomatoes cook on high heat for at least five minutes, until their skins begin to loosen. This stage is followed by a 20-minute simmer.

Pureed Plums

  • After the cooked tomatoes cool, they go into a blender to be pureed, which sometimes requires a bit of added water. Then, it's time to pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the solids. This pressing releases more flavorful juice. If the strained mixture doesn't yield much liquid, a small amount of water can be run though the strainer to pick up some of the flavor from the strained solids.

Fried Flavor

  • The final stage of preparing caldillo sauce, frying, is a common one in sauces from the Oaxacan region. The practice intensifies the sauce's taste and gives the food it tops a glossy shine. The tomato mixture goes into a hot frying pan in which several spoonfuls of vegetable oil are sizzling. The burner is turned to low after a minute or two, with a lid propped partially over the pan. The caldillo sauce is done after 20 minutes of this low-temperature cooking and occasional stirring.

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