How to make it from scratch instead of a package: Chipotle Simmer Sauce

My son Nicholas is 12 years old and often tells us about meals and snacks he enjoyed in his friends’ homes.  Last month, when we were shopping at Target, he pointed out a package of sauce that was the exact type his friend’s mother had used on the delicious fajitas.

I told him I wasn’t going to spend almost $3 on a plastic pouch containing one meal’s worth of sauce.  We could make it ourselves.

“Oh really Mom,” he said with a contemptuous eye-roll, “You don’t even know what it tastes like.”

“But you do,” I replied.  “I will write down all the ingredients that aren’t preservatives.  The first ingredient is the one used in the largest quantity, so I’ll start with that and reduce the amounts as I go down the list, and then you’ll taste it and tell me what it needs.”

He was very skeptical, but I held firm and did not buy the sauce.  I brought home the list of ingredients.

UPDATE: I had not written down the name of the product: Frontera Classic Fajita Skillet Sauce.

This interesting sauce, although designed for Mexican food, contains ingredients I don’t associate with Mexican cooking: soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, fish sauce, tamarind paste, ginger, and thyme.  I was curious to find out what it would taste like!  I’d recently bought fish sauce so that we could try making our own pad thai, and we also needed tamarind paste for that.  The only other ingredient in the fajita sauce that we didn’t already have in our kitchen was chipotle chili powder, which I was glad to buy.  I found the fish sauce at the Korean store on our block, tamarind paste at an Indian food store, and chipotle powder in the bulk section at the food co-op.  We finally made the sauce last week.

I wanted to make about 1 cup of sauce, so I started with 1/2 cup of the first ingredient (soy sauce).  The second ingredient (balsamic vinegar) has such an intense flavor that I used 1/4 cup of that and the next one.  The fourth ingredient is salt, so I went down to 1 teaspoon, and then I kept adding 1 tsp. of each ingredient until that sounded like too much, then 3/4 tsp. of each, and finally 1/2 tsp. of the last ingredient.

When Nicholas tasted it, he said it needed more salt and sugar.  That’s not surprising, since packaged foods often contain a lot of salt and sugar!  I added 1 tsp. of each.  Nicholas also thought it should be “a little more tangy,” so I added another teaspoon of apple cider vinegar, the ingredient listed just after sugar.

After eating, our whole family agreed that this sauce could have a little less salt and sugar, and it also should have less chipotle powder–maybe the kind we bought is spicier than what is used in the packaged sauce?  The recipe below is adjusted accordingly, but the ingredients still are listed in the same order as on the package.  We did not include xanthan gum; instead, we thickened our sauce with organic cornstarch.

Chipotle Simmer Sauce

To make enough sauce for about 3 cups of protein, you will need:

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce (If anyone eating is sensitive to gluten, make sure to use wheat-free soy sauce.)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup apple juice or white grape juice (The packaged sauce uses apple juice; white grape was what we had; their flavors are very similar.)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp. chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp. dried minced onion
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. tomato paste or ketchup
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 3/4 tsp. molasses (I’m sure you could substitute sorghum syrup, but we had molasses on hand this time.)
  • 3/4 tsp. garlic powder or granulated garlic
  • 3/4 tsp. tamarind paste
  • 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 3/4 tsp. lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp. thyme

Whisk together all the ingredients in a measuring cup or mixing bowl.

Prepare your protein in a large skillet.  We used 3 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed.  Next time we plan to try 1 pound of tofu, drained, cut into 1/2″ square strips, and browned.  You could also use this on some type of cooked meat.

Add sauce to skillet.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.  If sauce seems too thin, mix 1 tsp. cornstarch into 1/4 cup cold water, and then mix that into the skillet; the sauce will thicken quickly.

Meanwhile, prepare other ingredients for your meal.  We cut up a red pepper, grated some cheddar cheese, and warmed up flour tortillas.  (Technically, we made burritos, not fajitas.)  After finding out how spicy the sauce was, some of us added plain yogurt as well.

This sauce is delicious!!  I never would have thought of combining all of these multi-ethnic ingredients into one sauce, so I’m grateful to the manufacturer for the inspiration, but I’d much rather make it myself!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop and Real Food Friday for more great homemade-food ideas!

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

3 Responses to How to make it from scratch instead of a package: Chipotle Simmer Sauce

  1. Marla Gates says:

    HI Becca,
    Your story made me laugh. I am glad that your were able to make your son happy with your homemade sauce which sounds delicious and healthy without all the toxic additives and preservatives.Thanks for sharing on Real Food Fridays. Pinned & tweeted!

    • 'Becca says:

      Thanks! This particular sauce is not too bad on additives–other than xanthan gum, the only concern is the plastic pouch packaging, which may or may not contain BPA, etc.–but I love being able to make my own rather than squirt it out of a bag!

  2. What a great method for duplicating a packaged sauce recipe (without the additives and preservatives!), Becca! I always prefer homemade sauces and they are so much better for us. This one sounds delicious – I’m so glad you shared it with us at Hearth and Soul. Sharing on our Hearth and Soul Facebook page.

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