New Mexico-style Green Chile
New Mexico's extraordinary green chile ranks as one of the treasures of Mexican cooking! It more than holds its own with Texas-style chile, made largely with dried red chiles, and may even outdo it in terms of balance and complexity. Unfortunately, unless you’ve been to New Mexico, you may never have sampled the real thing (which does not include anything with tomatillos in it). For some reason that I have often contemplated but never understood, green chile, like sopapillas, stacked enchiladas, and Indian tacos has never found its way to other areas, at least not to any great extent. Over many years of trying various recipes, I learned that, while it is easy to make a good green chile stew, creating an exceptional one takes a lot of experience — until you have the recipe, and then it’s a snap!
Unsurprisingly, the two vital ingredients in green chile are the meat and chiles. New Mexicans use beef, pork, or lamb, or a combination of them. You can certainly chop and sear those items as you would with most stews, but there is a secret I discovered when using leftovers: using smoked or grilled meats gives the dish an incredible edge in depth of flavor. And if, instead of just cutting up the meat, you use it in different textures, such as partially shredded, ground and chopped, the overall experience will be enhanced. My favorite meats to use are smoked brisket that has been cut into small pieces and given two or three quick pulses in a food processor, smoked pork shoulder, such as pulled pork, cut into half inch or smaller chunks, and ground lamb. If you don’t want to make them yourself, the first two items can be bought, to-go, at barbecue restaurants, and ground lamb is available in most supermarkets.
When it comes to chiles, one of the New Mexico varieties, especially those grown near Hatch, are incomparable. However, even though many supermarkets now stock them for a week or two after the harvest in September, most of us outside of New Mexico still have a problem getting them. Fortunately, I discovered that using poblano or Anaheim chiles, combined with the right amount of habaneros makes a more than acceptable substitute in both flavor and heat.
My first insights into making green chile came years ago when I tried the award winning version created by chef Kathlyn Kolosvary at Doc Martin’s restaurant at the famous Taos Inn, which graciously provided the recipe. The use of more than one kind of meat with different textures, the addition of both fresh and dried onion and garlic, and a combination of broth and beer instead of just water, set me on the path to green chile bliss. I later discovered the benefits of adding bay leaves and a splash of fruity vinegar and, as noted above, the magic of using previously smoked meats.
The resulting recipe is incredibly versatile. It’s delicious by itself in a bowl or mixed with cooked pozole, although I must admit my favorite way to serve it is over plain steamed rice, topped with grated mild cheddar and provolone cheese. It makes a great filling for burritios, chimichangas, or flour tacos, especially when combined with some cheese and a dash of sour cream. It also produces a delicious breakfast or brunch when topped with eggs or made into chilaquiles by the addition of some fried strips of corn tortillas. To give your chile a touch of Sonora or California, try adding some mild California black olives to it.