Every week, Pete and Barbara serve up recipes on the Cafe Society blog. This week, they did the Mexican hat dance while making green chile.
My first experience with Green Chile (caps intentional and used out of reverence) was about 20 years ago. I had moved to Denver from Massachusetts, and the only "chili" I knew was the red kind with lots of overworked finely ground beef and kidney beans. It was my first autumn in the Southwest, and I was captivated by this new scent of roasting chiles wafting from the roadside stands with giant signs proclaiming, "Hatch Green Chile War!" Instantly, I was like a dog on point. I could smell chiles being roasted from a mile away. All of a sudden I was pursuing green chiles and green chile stews of all kinds -- and they were everywhere.
Among my friends there was much discussion and debate: I quickly joined the fray. Thick or thin? Tomatoes or tomatillos? potatoes or flour? Oregano or cumin? Pork loin or shoulder? How could I have lived twenty-some years without even a hint of such an exquisite and complex thing? Such was the plight of a turtlenecked New Englander.
I soon developed a self-proclaimed sophisticated green chile palate -- and being a hands-on kinda guy, I set out to make the perfect green chile. What I really learned over the last fifteen or so years is that green chile is as individual as driving, sex or grilling. Everyone has an opinion, and, of course, each opinion is the best opinion.
Here's my opinion:
This so-called master recipe is the basic core of a traditional Southwestern-style green chile stew sometimes referred to as New Mexican green chile stew, or Pueblo green chile stew. The recipe has as many variations as there are stars in the Taos night sky. I always serve mine with plenty of freshly browned warm tortillas.
The Pork: I use pork shoulder (also known as pork butt) cut into 1-inch cubes. I use pork shoulder for two reasons: The price is right, and it has a far superior taste to loin cuts when you're browning it. I use Niman Ranch pork, which comes from heirloom breeds of pigs that are raised outdoors -- not in confinement. Niman Ranch yields a superior tasting pork (and, yes, it even matters in a stew) with more highly developed connective tissue, which results in an unmistakable pleasing texture.
The Green Chiles: I always opt for milder chiles like Anaheim or Big Jim for this recipe, because the longer you cook the stew, the hotter it gets. You can always add heat with crushed red pepper or cayenne -- but you can't take the heat away. I have had many green chile stews that were simply too hot to enjoy because someone tried to perfect the heat with mind-numbing chiles. My opinion is that you should enjoy a slow, steady and gentle burn in your mouth, which makes you want to eat more.
New Mexican green chile stew (remember, this is peasant food, so don't stress)
Serves 6 with great leftovers
2 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes 2 tbsp vegetable oil 2 medium yellow onions, peeled and coarsely diced 1 1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano 1/2 tsp cumin 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced 1 pound fresh tomatillos, peeled and diced (canned tomatillos can be substituted) 2 pounds roasted and peeled Anaheim or Big Jim green chiles, chopped 1 pound very ripe tomatoes, coarsely diced (canned is also fine) 4 cups chicken stock 2 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed Kosher salt, pepper to taste Optional: Cayenne pepper
Directions: Roast peppers in a 450°F oven for 20-25 minutes until the skin blisters. Place peppers in a plastic bag and cover for about 20-30 minutes until cool enough to handle. Remove the skins and seeds from the peppers and discard. Chop the flesh and set aside.
Season pork thoroughly with salt and pepper. Heat oil over medium heat in a heavy shallow skillet until it just begins to glisten. Add pork in small batches until all the cubes are browned on all sides. Do not crowd the pork. (We use a shallow skillet because a deep one will steam, rather than brown the pork.) Take your time and complete this step correctly, because it makes all the difference. Set pork aside and save some of the rendered pork fat for the rest of the recipe.
Add two tablespoons pork fat (mo' fat, mo' flavor) to a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat and gently sweat onions, garlic and tomatillos until all vegetables are soft. Add the remaining ingredients, including the pork and cook until the pork is fork-tender, about one to two hours. About 45 minutes before you want to serve the stew, add the potatoes, cayenne pepper (if desired) and salt and pepper to taste. Serve with warm flour tortillas.