Grilled Chicken with Romesco Sauce (and How to Roast Peppers)

romesco sauceIf last year was the summer of Chimichurri Sauce, well, then this year it’s the summer of Romesco Sauce.

And I need to ask . . . again . . . Romesco Sauce – where have you been all my life?!!!

While Chimichurri is an Argentinian, parsley-based, intensely-flavoured and zippy sauce great to slather on anything, Romesco is a Spanish, roasted red pepper-based, intensely-flavoured and zippy sauce great to slather on anything. Similar but very different.

Oooooh, mammy, I can’t decide which I like better, although this year the Romesco is winning just by a tad because it’s new to me and I am still in the flush of first love with it.

Romesco sauce is a rich, smoky, yet zingy sauce based on roasted red peppers and chunky ground almonds or hazelnuts. Traditional recipes often include a slice of bread mashed in to thicken it up, but since I simplified the steps by using tomato paste instead of peeling and dicing fresh tomatoes, I find it doesn’t need it. Olive oil, vinegar and fresh garlic are the ingredients the two sauces have in common, which give them their zip.

I guess you’ll just have to decide for yourselves.

The Romesco Sauce is wonderful slathered over simple grilled chicken, steak, or burgers, and gives a jolt of flavour to boiled or steamed new potatoes. It’s great as a sauce on sandwiches or hamburger buns. Try it on hot dogs, too, or add a dab to a boiled egg, or stir it into some hummus or sour cream to jack up the flavour.

Spice up your summer with some Spanish flair – olé!

romesco sauce on grilled chicken

*And please don’t let the fact that you have to roast peppers stop you. I know what you’re thinking (that it’s fussy and complicated) and I thought those things, too, before I actually tried making them. But now that I’ve come, late in life, to the joys of roasted peppers, I make them often. (Peeling them is so much fun!) In the beginning I even did the extra step of oiling them before roasting, like in this delicious Roasted Pepper Salad. One day I was lazy and thought Oh, the heck with it – I’ll just skip that step, and you know what? They turned out just fine. I love to roast up a few extra peppers and have them in the fridge to layer on sandwiches and wraps, or  to chop into salads or casseroles. I sometimes dice the roasted peppers and freeze them flat in a baggie, then break off chunks to add to dishes when I need them.

With these two handy sauces in your repertoire – Chimichurri and Romesco – your summer entertaining will be elevated to new gourmet heights with very little effort.

* * * * *

Kitchen Frau Notes: Use all almonds, or half hazelnuts and half almonds. Both are traditional to this sauce. Use whole almonds, or slivers. Toast them in the oven for 10 minutes at 350°F until golden and aromatic. If you are toasting hazelnuts, too, rub them in a clean tea towel right after roasting, to remove as much of their skins as possible.

Puree the sauce to your liking. I prefer it chunky with a slight crunch from the nutty bits, but Romesco Sauce can also be pureed until smooth.

Also, adjust the spice level to your liking. We like just a slight nip to the sauce (from the cayenne), so I use mild smoked paprika.

If you have dried ancho chilies, use 3 or 4 of them, soaked for 15 minutes in water, then drained, instead of one of the roasted red peppers. The anchos provide the lovely smokiness that is the undertone to this sauce, but if you don’t have ancho chilis, the smoked paprika does the same thing.

*Dollop one-tablespoon-sized plops of leftover tomato paste onto wax paper and freeze, then pop them into a baggie to store in the freezer. They are handy to pull out whenever you need a little hit of tomato paste.

romesco sauce

Romesco Sauce

  • 2 large red bell peppers, roasted * (see below)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup toasted almonds (or half hazelnuts)
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) sherry vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (mild or hot)
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ cup (120ml) olive oil

ingredients for romesco saucePlace all ingredients into a food processor and puree to a chunky paste, or process further to a smooth sauce if that is what you prefer.

*How To Roast Peppers

Preheat the oven on the broiler setting. Set the top oven rack so that it is 5 to 6 inches (13-15cm) below the broiling element. Prepare a large cookie sheet by lining it with parchment paper or tin foil.

Choose large, thick-fleshed bell peppers. Wash and dry them, then cut them in half right through the stems. Pull out the stems, seeds, and thin membranes on the ribs. Shake each half upside-down to release any loose seeds stuck inside.

roasted peppers for romesco sauce

Lay the peppers, cut side down, on the prepared cookie sheet, leaving at least ½ inch (1cm) space between them, so the heat can get to all sides of the peppers.

Place them in the oven so that the tops of the peppers are about 3 to 4 inches below the heating element.

Broil for 15 minutes, until the tops are very charred and quite black in places.

roasted peppers for romesco sauce

Remove from the oven, and place the hot peppers into a saucepan with a lid on it to steam them as they cool (or a bowl covered with a plate or lid).

Once they are completely cooled, pull the charred skins off with your fingers or a paring knife. As long as most of the skins come off, that is okay. Don’t worry if you can’t get all the bits off around the edges.

peeling roasted pepper for romesco sauce

Your roasted peppers should have some lovely soft brown areas to them.

peeling roasted peppers for romesco sauce

Use immediately or store in a covered container in the fridge for up to a week.

Makes as many roasted peppers as you can fit on your cookie sheet at one time.

Grilled Chicken with Romesco Sauce

Simply season the amount of chicken breasts you will need with salt and pepper. To speed up the cooking time, I like to pound the chicken breasts first with a meat hammer so they are a uniform thickness. Brush lightly with olive oil.

Grill (or sauté) until cooked through but still moist inside. Place on serving plate and dollop with romesco sauce, or serve the sauce on the side.

grilled chicken with romesco sauce

Guten Appetit!

You might also like:

Chimichurri Sauce – on Salmon, Steak, or Anything

Wine and Cheese Burgers for Barbecue Season

Juicy Grilled Mushrooms

Grilled Corn with Chipotle Cream

Roasted Pepper Salad with Roasted Garlic and Balsamic Dressing

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