I grew up on spicy food.
It’s unavoidable in New Mexico. Every family gathering involves a bowl of posole with beefy red chili, a crock pot full of carne adovada, and a glass baking dish of green chili chicken enchiladas, among other pepper-worshipping dishes that take up every square inch of counter space. If the family has a grill out, leaving green chile off your burger, while technically an option, leaves you open to endless amounts of ridicule and torture at the hands of your brutal – yet more enlightened – nieces and cousins.
You toughen up quick, and you learn to appreciate the fiery spice that somehow makes every flavor more wondrous, dancing on your palate with reckless, torturous abandon. The hotter you can take, the more respect you earn, until you’re mocking and ridiculing your younger nieces and cousins. Really, you’re doing them a favor. It’s better that a loving relative shows them the ways of the world rather than some other snotty kid off the street.
With that in mind, I feel it’s necessary to introduce one of New Mexico’s cultural quirks… We have a state question, and that question is simply “Red or Green?” This question of course refers to your preference of chili. Before we move on, however, we have to address yet another cultural quirk, and that’s the controversy between “chili” or “chile.”
The i/e issue is a hot debate, and many say there’s a definite Texas way to spell it, another Mexican way to spell it, and using any “wrong” way will label you as an outsider. For me, what makes sense is what I grew up with. Chile refers to the pepper itself, and chili refers to any prepared dish using those chiles. For this reason, I would say that I use green chile to make green chili stew. I don’t care if this is wrong, it makes sense to me, and it’s how this blog will be formatted.
Okay? Let’s move on.
In order to stay true to my roots, I decided to work with these lovely capsaicin carrying vessels of love. Also, to be frank, I’ve really missed spicy food. Honestly, Duck L’Orange is a wonderful little dish, but nothing beats the zip of a really hot meal. So, for that reason, I will be spending this week and the next experimenting with both green and red, because my answer to our state question has always been “why not both?”
This week, I decided to try my hand at green chili stew. Honestly, there are plenty of restaurants that make wonderful stew in New Mexico, and most of them are reasonably priced, but homemade stew takes the cake every time. In addition to feeding my love of spicy food, this also allowed me to work with a few tenets of stew preparation I always adhere to:
First and foremost, you always prepare your own stock. Again, stock is key to a good stew, and as dad always says, “a stock boiled is a stock spoiled.” Fortunately, beyond that little bit of cooking wisdom, stocks are pretty easy and pretty flexible.
I started with a big beef thigh joint and threw it in a big pot of water, got it just hot enough to slightly simmer, then threw in whatever vegetable remnants I could find in the kitchen. I let it sit for around four hours, every so often skimming the grey bubbles and skin off the top – the scum – and then strained the veggies and beef bone out. Then, the stock was done. Preparing your stock this way also allows you to employ my second tenet of soup survival:
Roast your veggies separately.
Honestly, this is one of those things that so many people forget, and it’s huge to maintaining a good stew. Think about it: when you add veggies to your stew and boil the hell out of it, you just take all the flavor out of the veggies and impart it into your broth. However, if you let your veggies roast ahead of time, you can bring out their own natural flavors and let them hold their own against that hearty broth you just made. Suddenly, your veggies aren’t just soggy broth vessels – they’re giving life and love to your stew, and warming the tummies of your guests.
This also lets you get a little creative. In my case, because I love all things pepper-related, I added some roasted red and green bell peppers, and a few ancho chile peppers as well.
Anchos – relatively large chiles – are pretty low heat chile peppers popular in cajun cooking as well. However if you’re making a stew, you can roast and peel them and they’ll add a delightful slight smokiness to whatever you’re cooking. They fit really, REALLY well in a green chili stew.
The final important issue in making green chili stew is meat selection. This is one issue that will never be particularly hard for me to decide – in any dish, I feel red and green chile both go better with pork, and I picked up a lean pork tenderloin to cube, dredge, and brown in a skillet before adding to my stew.
The best part by far of making a green chili stew is throwing it all together. Stews and other one-pot meals are always great to make because they allow you to use almost everything you’ve got left in your kitchen to create just one little dish that will be plenty for everyone. In my case, I spent the entire afternoon roasting what fresh veggies I had on hand, chopping up a cheap pork loin, using table scraps to make a nice beef stock, and then I got to throw everything together in one steaming pot of pure love. All the work that went into one pot – the separate roasting, the long and arduous beef and vegetable stock, the pepper peeling – it’s something only the most trained palates would notice, but it’s so worth it to see the dish come together. A hearty, full meal in one bowl.
It’s really the simple things in life that make everything worth it, and a piping hot bowl of green chili stew will comfort anyone with music in their soul. After about half an hour of simmering (not boiling) this is what I ended up with.
Dig in, there’ll always be seconds.
Until next week readers… Who’s up for some carne adovada?