Having lived in Southwest Colorado for 10 years, we spent quite a few holidays, and a few long weekends in New Mexico, exploring Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos, and the landscapes in between. If you have ever been in this part of the world, you quickly learn that the local food is “New Mexican”, not “Mexican”. One of the questions you are asked in most every restaurant, if ordering anything with sauce, is “red or green”? By this they mean red sauce made with dried chiles, or a green sauce made with fresh chiles, smothering whatever you have ordered?
For me, the answer is, was, and always will be “red”. This is in part because I don’t have an outstanding recipe for green chile. Mind you I have a good one. Just not fantastic. (I have had fantastic green chile – I know it exists – but the elusive je ne sais quoi that made it extra special…not a clue, and trust me, I’ve looked).
It’s also because we used to always stop at the El Bruno restaurant in the small town of Cuba New Mexico on our way to Albuquerque. It looks like a converted Tasty Freeze, which is what it is, but don’t let the exterior fool you. They have a Carne Adovada that will make you weep it is so good. We used to give ourselves an extra hour of travel time on our way to the airport, just so we could stop for lunch or dinner. (For those of you who are geographically challenged, Albuquerque is 3 1/2 hours from Durango. Denver, in contrast, is 7 hours from Durango. When we flew, we flew out of Albuquerque.)
And what I DO have is a great recipe for “red” sauce. I can’t take credit for it. It is taken directly from the back of a bag of dried Hatch New Mexico chiles. (Hatch is a town in southern New Mexico famous for its chiles.) But it is an outstanding recipe. Simple to make. Great on everything from enchiladas to slow cooked crockpot pork or beef. Or just throw it on some Huevos Rancheros for breakfast.
Given the popularity of Hispanic foods and the expansion of the Hispanic population across the United states, dried chiles can be found in any well stocked grocery store in the ethnic food aisle, at least in the west. You are looking for the long red chiles that say “New Mexico” or “California” on the bag, though you could probably make this sauce out of most any dried chile or combination of chiles. New Mexico chiles are not particularly hot, just very flavorful.
I recently had a bag of chiles get eaten by some kind of larvae that came in the bag. When I picked it up to use it, the chiles were shredded, there was a lot of frass (poop) and movement in the bottom of the bag, and most of the pigment on the chiles that were left was gone. CRAZY. In 15 years of buying chiles, this is the first time I’ve ever had that happen. But I suggest you store your chiles in a strong zippered plastic bag (freezer bag) and perhaps freeze them for a few days, if like me, it may take a while for you to use them up. By the way, the chicken’s loved what was left of the chiles and the larvae that were eating them. Birds are pretty much immune to capsaicin, the chemical that gives chiles their heat.
Hatch Red Chili Sauce
- 12 dried New Mexico chile pods
- 3 ½ cups water
- 2 whole cloves garlic
- 1 tsp whole oregano, crushed (Mexican oregano is preferred)
- 2 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 2 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp flour
Rinse chiles (I always forget to do this), remove seeds and stems (I split them up the side and tear into 1 inch chunks), and place in a pot with water. Heat to boiling, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until pods are soft and pulpy, about 20 minutes.
Strain pods, reserving cooking liquid, and place in a blender. Add garlic, oregano, salt and half the liquid (about a cup). Blend until a smooth, paste-like consistency is obtained.
In large skillet, heat 2 tbsp oil. Add flour and brown lightly. Remove from heat, add chile mixture to flour mixture, and continue to stir until lumps are dissolved. Return to heat. Stir in enough additional cooking liquid to produce a gravy-like texture (I generally find I don’t need any additional liquid). Allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
Yield: About 2 cups.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2012, where we’re loving the longer growing season and great food here in SE Washington, but do miss the great New Mexican food in the southwest. Sopapillas anyone?