The village of Hatch, just south of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, looks like a typical Rio Grande Valley agricultural settlement. The pace is slow. The restaurants, which open at 6 a.m., are closed by 3 p.m. The wind rustles the pecan trees.
This is the heart of New Mexico’s green chile country, which is arguably the very soul of New Mexico.
The New Mexico chile was created just south of Hatch, at the New Mexico State University College of Agriculture in Las Cruces, by Mexican-born horticulturalist Fabian Garcia. After 10 years of breeding efforts, in 1917 Garcia unveiled New Mexico #9, which remained the industry standard until 1950, when another horticulturalist, Roy Harper, released New Mexico #6, which improved upon the #9’s cultivation and flavor. Today’s New Mexico chile is big, fleshy, early ripening and hot enough to get and keep your attention, with an intoxicating green flavor that’s nothing like a bell pepper’s.
That flavor is popular in chiles rellenos, green enchiladas and the “green sauce” that’s always available upon request in New Mexico to smother your burger, fries, chicken fried steak, etc. But my favorite way to eat green chiles is in green chile stew.
I was eating my way across New Mexico, in fact, from one bowl of green chile to another, when I stopped in Hatch last week, where the chile harvest is in full swing.
I parked in front of Hatch Chile Sales, the furthest roaster from the highway. There were no tourists, just Mexicans, New Mexicans and other locals. While I talked with Pedro Atencio, the owner, a guy came by selling red chile tamales.
Pedro bought a dozen tamales, gave one to me, and then ignited the propane burner of his roaster. He cranked the drum so my bushel of peppers were branded by the hot metal and licked by the fire. The smell of roasting green chile complemented the already warm feeling in the air, a blast furnace of an afternoon even when I wasn’t standing in front of a sputtering, spinning fireball of pepper spray.
Pedro dumped my chiles into a plastic bag and tied it shut, telling me to let them sit in the bag for at least an hour, at which time they will be easy to peel. Freeze the chile in quart portions, he advised, and peel under cold water before using.
Across the street was the Pepper Pot, a restaurant rumored to serve the best green chile bowl in town. Since it was after 3 p.m., I had to wait until the next morning to meet the boss, Crazy Melva, and sample her Green Chile Bowl.
And what a bowl it was. The subtle yet potent flavor was complete and intoxicating, and it easily unseated the previously #1 bowl (which is served at El Brasos in Cuba, NM) as my new favorite green.
Crazy Melva didn’t have time to chat at the moment—she was too busy tearing the local pastor a new one—but when I finally reached her by phone a few days later, she patiently explained her green chile bowl recipe.
“Gotta pen?” she asked.
For one pound of green chiles (roasted, peeled, and chopped), you need a pound of meat.
First, combine 1 cup dry pinto beans and 3 cups water and simmer for three hours, seasoning with garlic salt.
Meanwhile, cook 1 pound of pork stew meat in a pan. (“If you can’t find pork stew, ask the butcher for pork butt, which is lean. Tell the butcher you want stew and they chop it for you—not small, but kind of little.”)
As the meat cooks, it will release water into the pan, which, in combination with the fat also released from the pork butt, will help cook the meat. “Don’t add oil or nothing,” she says, “and as soon as the water dries out it’s ready; don’t overcook it.”
Meanwhile, chop one onion coarsely, and do the same with three big tomatoes (or use a can of chopped—not crushed—tomatoes). Add tomato and onion to the meat and then cook them together for about 10 minutes.
Add 2 cups of water and two cubes chicken bullion, increase the heat and season with garlic salt. Boil for five minutes, and then add the peeled and chopped green chiles. Then boil, ever so briefly.
“Don’t cook the chile too long, or it will disappear,” Melva warns. “Believe me, it will be gone. Don’t boil too much with chile. They will disappear big-time! I don’t know why, pero I’ve been here 12 years and that happened a lot. The chile disappears and you have to keep adding more.”
After ever so briefly cooking the chile, set it aside and keep it warm. And keep the beans hot. To serve, put a scoop of hot beans in a bowl, a scoop or two of green chile stew over it, and garnish with a warm tortilla on the side.
Ask Ari: Recipe redux
Q: Hello Flash,
Last year you published Bob Marshall’s tomato sauce recipe. I made it with my homegrown tomatoes and it was the best sauce I have ever tasted.
Unfortunately, I have misplaced the recipe. Could you send it my way?
Thanks for all your food and garden wisdom.
A: Dear Karen,
Your letter arrived on the very day that Steve, of Fields of Wrath in the Bitterroot, gave me a box of sungold tomatoes that he had left over at the end of market. They were so ripe there wasn’t a chance they’d last until the next market, so he just gave them to me.
Such is the blessing and the curse of my job. I attract food. I’m a slave to food. It took two hours to pull the little green stems off each cherry tomato, and 16 hours cooking on low in the oven, for my perfect sauce to be ready—at the expense of some very important household projects, like sleeping.
You might want to cut larger tomatoes into chunks, but the gist is to let the tomatoes cook low and slow in the oven, with the herbs of your choice (I used tarragon and basil) and a bit of olive oil. You can add onions and garlic in large chunks, which will dissolve over time into the sauce. Season with salt and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cooked down to about half the original volume.
And if you want the exact recipe as I printed it last year, here it is:
Wash 10 pounds Roma tomatoes and cut out the ends and imperfections. Roast in the oven at 400 degrees until they collapse. Let them cool then pull off the skins, squeezing them to save the juice. Add 1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup roasted garlic, 2 tablespoons sea salt, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 2 tablespoons sugar and, if possible, a splash or two of red wine. Puree, adjust the seasonings and simmer until reduced by 25 percent.
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