Those of you who connect with me through Facebook know that I spent a few days in Santa Fe recently. My husband and I flew out West to do some skiing – initially, we planned to ski Taos, but as it turns out, Taos is further from Santa Fe than we thought. The Santa Fe Ski Basin was just up the road from our lodgings, though, and with the recent snowfall, provided great skiing.
No trip to Santa Fe would be complete without eating as many chile dishes as possible. Indeed, chiles are ubiquitous throughout New Mexico, which even boasts its own chile varieties – New Mexico chiles, a variety of Anaheim chiles, which form the basis for much of the state’s cuisine. Although New Mexican cuisine share some similarities with Mexico’s Sonoran cuisine – burritos, enchiladas, chiles rellenos, huevos rancheros – when prepared in New Mexico, those dishes tend to feature New Mexico chiles. And they usually come with a ladle of chile sauce.
“Red or green?” is the question you’ll be asked when ordering many local specialties. Each sauce has its virtues – green is hot, bright, and vegetal, while red is richer and fruity. Think of the difference between a poblano and an ancho, or between a jalepeño and a chipotle. Greens usually are flame-roasted to shed the bitter, tough skins, then diced and stewed with pork, or with hominy, or pureed for sauce; reds are dried, and the dried pods ground to a powder for use in sauces, tamale masa, or stews. “Christmas” connotes the use of both red and green chile sauce.
We came back from Santa Fe with a variety of red chiles – Dixon Medium Hot (grown in Dixon, NM), Hatch Extra Hot (from Hatch, NM, where the famed Hatch chiles grow), and Native Nambé (an heirloom chile indigenous to the northern part of the state). The Dixon and Hatch are rich, sweet, and fruity – the Hatch somewhat more so – and the Nambé somewhat more earthy and spicy. To prepare dried red chiles, remove the stem, and the seeds, and grind the dried fruit to a powder in a spice grinder.
Preparing green chile here in Baltimore poses some questions of seasonality and authenticity. True New Mexico chiles are not generally available outside New Mexico, and the season for fresh green chiles is a few short months in the late summer. You can approximate the flavor, though, with widely-available Anaheim chiles, supplemented by a couple of jalepeños. Before using green chiles, blister the skins by holding the peppers (with tongs) over a gas flame; otherwise, roast them in a hot (450F/230C) oven until the skins blister and brown. Place the prepared chiles in a pan and cover them so the residual heat continues to steam the skins away from the chile flesh. Then peel them, and remove the seeds.
Pork shoulder, green chile sauce
One of New Mexico’s archetypical dishes is green chile stew, featuring the roasted, peeled green chiles, onions, cubed pork, and seasonings. These flavors form the basis for this dish, whose influences stretch from Vermont (the four year-old extra sharp cheddar in the grits), through the South (the grits), to New Mexico (the pine nuts), and across the border into Mexico’s Yucatán province (the sour orange marinade for the pork).
Roast pork with sour orange mojo:
2 lb pork shoulder
juice of 4 sour oranges or 2 juice oranges and 2 limes
6 cloves garlic, smashed
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground achiote (annatto seed)
1 tsp salt
Green chile sauce:
1 lb Anaheim chiles, and a couple of hot green chiles like serrano or jalepeño, roasted, skinned, and seeded
1 large onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic confit
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 c water or chicken stock [Note: water is good if you’re going to use the sauce for a vegetarian item; otherwise, meat stock lends more flavor]
Vermont cheddar grits:
4 c filtered water
1 tsp salt
1 c stone-ground yellow grits
2 ounces extra-sharp aged Cheddar, or similar (I used a four year-old XX sharp Cheddar from Dakin Farm in Vermont)
Pine nuts, toasted
Flash-pickled red onion, diced 1/4″
Cilantro leaves, washed and spun dry
At least three hours before cooking the pork, but as much as the night before, rub the pork shoulder with the salt. In a blender, combine the pork marinade ingredients except the salt. Place the pork in a nonreactive metal or glass bowl, pour the marinade ingredients over, and work well over the pork. Refrigerate, covered, 3 hours to overnight. Turn at least once if possible to redistribute the marinade. You also can place the whole thing in a zippered plastic bag.
Oven 400F/200C. Remove the meat from the marinade and brush off any excess; place the pork on a rack in a pan. Reserve the marinade in the refrigerator. Roast for 10 mins and then reduce the heat to 250F/120C. Roast for four hours. Remove and rest for 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the reserved marinade to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes.
While the pork roasts, prepare the green chile sauce. Roast, seed, and skin the peppers if you haven’t done so already, dice, and set aside. Place a saucepot over medium heat; when hot, add 1 tbsp oil. Bloom the coriander and oregano. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the garlic and onion and sweat until tender and translucent; then add the diced chile and sweat another 5 minutes. Add the stock or water and bring to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Transfer to a vitaprep or blender and purée until very smooth. If using a conventional blender, remove the top from the lid and use a kitchen towel to cover the hole to allow steam to escape. Season with salt.
Prepare the grits cake. Bring 4 c of salted water to a rolling boil in a saucepot; whisk in the grits. With a wooden spoon, stir constantly for about three minutes; then cover and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Let the grits simmer and thicken for about 20 minutes, until thick and smooth. Stir in the aged Cheddar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour into a half sheet pan and cool. When firm, turn the cooled grits out onto a cutting board and score about 2″x3″.
To serve, set a skillet over medium-high heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp butter. Add the squares of grits cake and fry on each side, turning after several minutes when golden and crisp. Place a streak of green chile sauce on the plate and top with a grits cake; add slices or shreds of the roast pork tossed in the reduced marinade. Garnish with toasted pine nuts, diced pickled red onion, slices of avocado, and cilantro leaves.
Short rib, red chile sauce
This dish has no analogue in traditional New Mexican cuisine, but the New Mexican red chiles bring the new Southwest to two meat and potatoes classics – short ribs and gnocchi. Don’t skip the celery salad – it adds a bright green vegetable note and a bit of crispness.
3 lb short rib on the bone, cut in 2″x2″ cubes
2 each carrots, celery, diced
1 large onion, diced
6-8 thyme branches
1/4 c tomato paste
1 c red wine
2 c beef stock (chicken stock is ok too, as is unsalted chicken broth from a can or box)
salt and pepper
Red chile sauce:
6 tbsp mixed ground red chiles (I used a combination of Hatch, Dixon, and Nambé)
1 large onion, peeled and diced
6 cloves garlic confit
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 tsp ground coriander
2 c water or beef stock [Note: water is good if you’re going to use the sauce for a vegetarian item; otherwise, meat stock lends more flavor]
Half recipe gnochetti, sliced 1/4″ with bench scraper and prepared to the point of simmering
Button mushrooms, sliced paper thin with benriner
Celery leaves, dressed in lemon juice and truffle oil
Prepare at least a day ahead if possible. First prepare the red chile sauce. Grind the peppers to powder if you haven’t done so already after removing the seeds and stems. Place a saucepot over medium heat; when hot, add 1 tbsp oil. Bloom the coriander and oregano. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the garlic and onion and sweat until tender and translucent; then add the ground chile and sauté another 1-2 minutes. Add the stock or water and bring to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Transfer to a vitaprep or blender and purée until very smooth. If using a conventional blender, remove the top from the lid and use a kitchen towel to cover the hole to allow steam to escape. Season with salt.
Oven 180F/80C or 250F/120C (read on for an explanation). Season the beef on all sides. Brown in a little oil until well browned on all sides. Set aside and remove all but 1 tbsp oil from pan.
Sweat the vegetables in a heavy sauce pot with a lid. Add tomato paste and saute a minute. Add aromatics and wine; bring wine to a simmer, and simmer 10 minutes. Add stock and return to simmer. Return beef and any juices to the pot. Cover with the pan’s lid or with a parchment lid, and place in oven. Braise 10 hours at 180F. For a faster short rib, braise at 250F 4 hours.
Remove pan from oven; remove short rib to cutting board and, when cool enough to handle, slice from bone and any stray connective tissue. Strain braising liquid through chinois into shallow pan (or a bain-marie, if you have one) to cool quickly. If you are preparing in advance, add the braising liquid to the short ribs to cover. Cover with foil and another pan, and weight with cans (such as tomatoes). Chill overnight or at least 8 hours. If you are preparing the same day, skim as much fat as you can from the braising liquid and proceed to the reducing step right away. As pictured, the short rib hasn’t been weighted and squared off as I prepared it the same day.
Remove cold fat layer from braising liquid and remove short ribs to a cutting board. Square off the ribs (save trim for another use, like a ragù). Return braising liquid to a pan and reduce over medium heat until glossy, smooth, and sauce-like. This step may take from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your volume of liquid, the size of your pan, and the heat of your stove. Cut meat from bone and trim to even size. Return to the reduction to warm through.
At serving time, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Add the gnocchetti and simmer until they float. Drain. You have two options at this point. For a very tender gnocchetti, toss with butter and season with salt and pepper. Otherwise, place a skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add butter; fry the gnocchetti on both sides quickly. Season with salt and pepper. The fried gnocchi will be firmer.
To plate, place a streak of the red chile sauce on the plate and top with a square of the short rib and the gnocchetti. Garnish with the celery salad and mushrooms, and drizzle with the reduced braising liquid.