Cherry-Chile Barbecue Sauce

Every summer one of the things I most look forward to is that two, maybe three, week window where sweet cherries are available in the grocery store for less than $5/lb. I load up during that short window – some for baking and many more for just consuming as is. I had dreams of making this sweet cherry pie and these crumb-topped muffins too.

But the month of July, which is usually prime cherry season around here, came and went, and the price of cherries didn’t budge. Now a week into August, I’m thinking it’s just not going to happen this year. The abundant peaches and berries will have to suffice, and I guess I really can’t complain about that. Oooh, and watermelon – I finally bought my first one this weekend; it was so juicy and sweet, seriously like candy!

Cherry-Chile Barbecue Sauce

Sometime in mid-July I did take the plunge and splurge on a few pounds of cherries. I couldn’t let summer pass without enjoying at least a few! And though I was torn between repeating some old favorite recipes or trying new ones, I couldn’t resist experimenting just a little with some new ideas. This cherry-chile barbecue sauce was one of the big winners in the kitchen that day.

Let’s start with the color – the sauce is a gorgeous deep burgundy. I just love it :) As for the flavor, you’ll find a lot of traditional barbecue sauce ingredients in the recipe – things like tomatoes, mustard, molasses, vinegar, etc. But then you add in the sweet cherries as well as some chile powder, jalapeño, and chipotle peppers in adobo, and you wind up with a really unique result! The sauce is tangy, slightly sweet and packs just a little bit of heat; you’ll taste the cherries, but I didn’t think it was overwhelmingly fruity. This sauce would be great with either chicken or pork – it’s an out-of-the-box way to add a little seasonal twist to your summer barbecues!

Cherry-Chile Barbecue Sauce
adapted from Fine Cooking

{Note: measure out 2 cups of cherries first, then remove the pits.}

1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh jalapeño, seeds and membranes removed
2 cups sweet fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons minced chipotle chile in adobo
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 + 1/8 teaspoons chile powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Add the oil to a large saucepan and set over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the onion, ginger, and jalapeño. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the veggies are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the cherries, tomatoes, molasses, vinegar, chipotle chile, mustard, chile powder, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium-high, and bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the sauce until slightly thickened and reduced, about 5-10 minutes – the cherries will soften slightly, but not break down completely.

Puree the sauce until smooth using an immersion blender (or, if you don’t have one, transfer to a blender to do it then return the sauce to the pan). Pureeing the cherries will have thickened the sauce, but if you prefer a thicker consistency still you can continue simmering for a little longer. Allow to cool then transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups