Cherry Guajillo BBQ Sauce

Thursday, July 23, 2015

It's prime cherry season, also known as the only time I will suck up the cost of a huge bag of sweet cherries. Towards the end of June I start stalking the grocery store to watch the prices go down. For our area, the lowest cherries get is just under $3 per pound, so that's when I pounce. Cherries are on the high end for summer fruits, but considering they can go up to as much as $7 per pound out of season, now is the time to take advantage. One of the obvious choices to make use of a plethora of cherries is pie, so you better believe I made a delicious one right off the bat. But last summer I discovered that barbecue sauce really lends itself to the addition of cherries. Besides flavor, cherries add a ton of body and a deliciously deep dark red tone to sauce that only adds to its appeal. I played around with different versions of my recipe until the cherry season came to an end and have been longing to pick back up ever since.

Teetering along the boundaries between sweet and savory is one of the more interesting lessons in cooking I've explored lately. Barbecue sauces are a great way to experiment with that. A good sauce in my book is balanced with savory elements, acidity, heat, sweetness and a bit of smokiness. When building a sauce, I tend to start with traditional barbecue ingredients such as onions, Worcestershire sauce, apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, molasses and tomato. From there I add other seasonings and flavors that play up my star ingredients. Last summer I used Ancho chile powder and jalapenos to bring heat to this sauce, which was good, but dare I say expected? This time, I instead turned to Guajillo chiles, a favorite of mine for my fish taco marinades. The fruity, smoky, moderately spiciness of the dried Guajillo chile brings a warmth and depth of flavor that is a beautiful match for grilled food. It brings heat but doesn't overwhelm the sauce - this is about the cherries, after all. Bonus? Guajillo chiles are almost exactly the same color as cherries, which further added to the intensely deep red color of the sauce.

Finally, the "surprise" ingredient of the list is definitely the vanilla bean paste. Amazing, amazing, amazing.  The sauce just wouldn't be the same without it. I needed confirmation that vanilla can work well in a savory application and I definitely found it here. It's one of those quirky things I saw mentioned a few times in magazines and blogs, so my curiosity finally got the best of me when I was making my batch of cherry barbecue sauce. Vanilla brings out the sweetness of the cherries and molasses in such a unique way that couldn't be replicated by adding more sugar.  I stirred a tiny bit of vanilla paste into the simmering sauce and was blown away. I added a little more, and literally gasped. I love those tiny little life altering moments when cooking. Speaking of which, vanilla paste itself is a fairly new ingredient for me.I really love the convenience of scooping out a little bit of the paste instead of scraping vanilla beans. It has way more flavor than vanilla extract without the added liquid or alcohol. If you don't have the paste, scraping out the beans from a vanilla pod is your best bet for substitution to match the flavor.

My cherry barbecue sauce can be used for just about anything your heart desires, but it does something miraculous to smoked baby back ribs and grilled chicken wings, if you're looking for a good start! It also makes a fantastic condiment for a good juicy beef burger. This recipe makes a ton of sauce, so I recommend splitting it up into mason jars to store some for use beyond the season. The water bath canning process isn't hard at all to follow even if you haven't canned before. I hope you guys have fun with this one!

Cherry Guajillo BBQ Sauce

6 dried Guajillo chile peppers
2 tbsp canola oil
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
2 lb cherries, pitted & chopped
8 oz. Goya Spanish style tomato sauce
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. blackstrap molasses
1/3 c. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp vanilla paste or 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 tbsp liquid smoke (optional)
2 large jalapeños, sliced (for milder sauce, remove core & seeds)
Kosher salt, to taste

Servings: Makes approx. 2 quarts
Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: 1 hr
Suggested Equipment: Large heavy bottomed pot, upright or immersion stick blender, cherry pitter, mason jars and lids for canning

Dried chiles should be soft and leathery to the touch. If they are cracking and stale, you'll miss out on flavor. Slice off the stems and cut the peppers into large pieces, removing as much as the seeds and stringy core as you can. Heat a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and toast the chiles for thirty seconds or so, until fragrant. Stir them around frequently so they don't scorch. No oil is needed.

Transfer the toasted chiles to a bowl and cover with boiling water. Steep until softened, about 20 minutes.  If you need to, set a bowl or plate over the surface of the water to keep the chiles submerged.

In the same pot, heat the canola oil and add onions. Season with a pinch of salt and saute for several minutes until softened and beginning to brown. Add ginger and garlic and saute another minute.

Add tomato sauce and pitted cherries.

Return the softened chiles to the pot, along with all other ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.

Allow the sauce to simmer for at least thirty minutes, giving plenty of time for the cherry juices to release. Taste frequently and adjust sweetness to suit your preferences; some cherries will be sweeter than others, likewise for the spiciness of hot peppers. Keep in mind once the sauce is pureed, the flavor will be much more cohesive. I tend to wait until after that step to do most of my adjustments.

Use a stick immersion blender to puree the sauce in the pot until smooth, or carefully transfer to an upright blender in small batches. Simmer the pureed sauce at least another ten minutes and make any final adjustments for seasoning. 

If you'll be canning sauce, funnel it into sterilized, hot mason jars and follow proper canning procedures with a fifteen minute water bath. Once the jars have cooled and you've checked that all lids are sealed, you can store your sauce for up to a year in the pantry. Once opened, you should store in the fridge and use within a few days. Trust me, you won't have any problem getting rid of it!

If this tutorial has helped you out in the kitchen, please consider donating a couple bucks to The Kitchenista Diaries and help fund future recipes!  Thanks for your ongoing support!

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  1. This sauce was my first batch of homemade BBQ sauce and now I can't ever serve bottled stuff again. Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe. It is so good and so simple. Your instructions are fantastic. I've loved all of your recipes and always get rave reviews. Thank you for sharing your talent and passion with us!

  2. I made this a few months ago, for wings - was blown away! Fantastic. Pork shoulders (Boston Butts) recently went on sale, I bought two and - I was dying to try this sauce w pulled pork. Cherries were already off the shelf, so ... I subbed 2lbs of black plums - still, out of this world! Thank you so much, Angela

  3. A. Maze. Zing. Amazing. Did I say this is amazing? Because it is. I PayPal'ed you in honor of it.

  4. Like your home and your auto your BBQ is a standout amongst the most critical lifeless things throughout your life and as a man you should know how to treat smokers under 500 bucks