Green chile season is now upon us, and this means the pervading aroma of burning chiles will soon fill the air as parking lots fill up with eager chile-philes waiting patiently, burlap bags in hand, for their turn to watch the roasters work their rolling, smoking magic. This season also translates to many stoves capped with many pots of green chile stew -- every one of them different, and some better than others.
Here's my list of the top five qualities of the best green chile stew. Pay close attention, because when folks don't like your green chile, they aren't shy about letting you know it....
5. Balance -- ingredient ratios in line with the universe.
If you screw up the delicate and crucial ratio of pork to chile, the Jedi will feel it. The best chile stews and sauces use pork, not beef -- and if you pollute it with ground beef, you deserve to be spat upon. And that's cubed pork, with just enough fat to make the broth rich, but not enough to make oily pools in the stew. A good balance is one part pork to three parts chile, because too much pork makes the sauce clunky, and too little is stingy and unsatisfying. Use enough garlic to flavor but not overwhelm, and a nip of diced tomatoes and potatoes - just enough to add color and texture.
4. Consistency and color -- medium-thick and greeny-tan.
Thin, watery green chile sauces and stews serve no useful purpose -- except maybe to showcase your noob skills -- and sauces that are thick like oatmeal don't par-sink gracefully between the folds of tortillas and over the ends of enchiladas. You want a medium-thick consistency that won't turn your rellenos into soggy sponges. Good color is definitely a marker of a fine sauce; we see it before we put it in our mouth-holes. Greeny-gray is a bad color, and straight gray is worse. You want a khaki-to-light caramel gravy punctuated with vivid green, with accents of red tomatoes and white potatoes, and tiny black char-bits--like a bright, springtime camouflage pattern.
3. Roast level -- more is better.
Under-roasted green chiles, with only small, token leopard spots of charring on them are all right, but in order to take proper advantage of the full, autumn-roast flavor, you should really commit -- and get those chiles deep-roasted until they look like dark, shaggy little corpses on the outside, and rich, bright green and steaming on the insides. This will give the chiles a handsome, dusky savor, with wood-smoked qualities that will permeate your sauce and stew, and play well with the savory garlic, the tangy tomatoes, the mealy potatoes and the natural heat and vegetal notes of the inner chile.
2. Flavor -- it should have some. Contrary to some people's beliefs, heat and flavor are two different things, and they cannot be swapped out, one for the other, in green chile sauce. Sitting down to a bowl of nuclear-red-button-alert green chile stew and sweating like a male sex worker at the Republican National Convention leaves you with a mouthful of heat, but no true flavor profile to follow. You really want to taste and savor all of the ingredients, and let your tongue be teased until it gets stung -- like toying with the ass-end of a scorpion. And no, squeezing lime wedges over the sauce after the fact does not make the sauce better; it only makes it scorching and danky-sour, and you want to keep it on the manageable side of salty, because salt should enhance flavor rather than be used for it.
1. Heat -- warm, not blistering.
And that brings us to a crucial element for the preparation of the best green chile stews and sauces: heat level. Using mild green chiles is for wussy wieners who will spend their entire lives stagnating in their own sadness-stew of limitations. But on the flip end of that, those who use chiles so f*cking searing hot that they could singe your backside boo-boo hairs are overcompensating for bad childhoods, and need to get professional counseling. Seed count should be moderate, with enough to create warm that will crescendo, but don't pack the stew with so many seeds that it crunches like Grape Nuts. What you want is a warm, creeper-heat that builds slowly, then kicks it up the more chile you eat, ending with you producing sweat, small, delicate tears and a thin, healthy nasal discharge.