Tips and Tricks

big chilesThe best way to cut up meat for stew:

The best way to prepare the meat for making into chile stews and posole is to either freeze the roast or other cut of meat then only partially thaw it before you cut it into pieces. Fully thawed or fresh meat is hard to cut because it wiggles around so much and chances are you’re going to cut yourself. Put the odds into your favor and cut up the partially frozen meat. It will be easier to handle.

You can use pork and beef roasts with the bone in because we know that the closer to the bone the sweeter the meat, but it’s also harder to handle. Pork and beef loins and other boneless cuts can also be used, with a slight trade off, making it easy or a little more flavor, but isn’t that how it always is?

And the best knife for cutting up stew meat is the lowly little serrated steak knife. You may have a great set of chef’s knives, freshly sharpened on the stele, but you’ll make better time with the serrated knife and it’s good to not feel rushed because the smaller you cut the pieces of meat, the more flavorful your stew will be.

Lard vs. other hard shortenings

There are some recipes that need lard to get a traditional flavor, but go ahead and use whatever hard shortening your conscience allows. You will, however, be sacrificing flavor.

If you’ve lived in Taos for any amount of time you’ve undoubtedly heard the lard vs butter debate. Maybe you’ve even chimed in on one side or the other.

It would be nice to say many of these recipes can be meatless and there have been some delicious entrees that have managed some flavor, but the traditional Taos foods are meat-heavy. If you want to explore the traditional recipes, you’re going to be cooking with meat. If you really want to get authentic, you’d have to throw in a lot of game recipes – especially ones for elk. A well-prepared elk entree is an experience that will stay with you for life.

Manual or Machine?

If you’re comfortable using the food processors to chop vegetables or prepare bread dough go ahead. You have less control over the size of the veggie pieces and the time you save using the machine you lose having to clean it.

Chile Basics

What makes Northern New Mexico foods taste so different from Tex-Mex or what you find in other parts of the southwest? The New Mexico chile of course.

It is one of the largest crops produced in New Mexico and the quality of the green chile, and the red dried chile is the very finest in the world.

New Mexican chile – both green and red – sells for premium prices. It is a product shipped all over the world: to India for use in a fiery curry, to Asia for use in their highly seasoned dishes, and also to Europe where it is used in certain regional dishes.

You can tell the New Mexican dried red chile by its distinctive bright red color and by its sweet taste. Since this chile is commonly graded according to the degree of heat, you can purchase the strength you desire … hot, medium or mild.

The green chile is a special kind of green chile, and it can be hot, medium or mild. Sometimes all three degrees of hotness will grow on one plant. Different geographical areas in New Mexico produce differently flavored chiles.

Everyone who loves the chile has a favorite. It is almost like preferring a special vintage of wine, and may connoisseurs of the chile can tell the difference between chiles grown in Las Cruces and those grown along the Northern Rio Grande.

The chile is a native plant to this area. When the Spanish discovered the chile they thought it was like the sweet green pepper of Europe and named them “chile peppers.” That is like saying “pepper-pepper,”

Actually the chile is in no way related to any of the kinds of peppers native to Europe. It is a separate species of plant, and we know it has a special flavor. Chile grows green, and then as the pod matures, it becomes red. When the pod is red and then dried, it develops a different flavor.

Dried red chile is strung together. These colorful strings of dried red chiles are called “ristras” in Spanish. They are hung for easy storage and wintertime use.

The dried red chile teems with vitamin D. The green chile is high in vitamin C. The chile also acts as a tenderizer and the dried red chile acts as a preserver of many foods too.

Roasting green chile

Choose large, firm pods for easy peeling. Pods should be bright green, with shiny, smooth skins and thick flesh. Immature chile will have thin flesh and an undeveloped flavor. Wilted or shriveled chile is difficult to peel.

Pierce the chile with the point of a sharp knife and place it near a heat source. That could be an oven, a barbeque grill or even a woodstove.

Heat the chile until the skin is blistered enough to pull away from the flesh. Turn the pods frequently to insure even blistering of the skin.

Chile may be blistered, cooled and frozen without peeling if you have enough freezer space. Pack in moisture-vapor proof containers and freeze. The skin is a little easier to remove after the chiles have been frozen.

If you’d prefer to peel and seed your chiles immediately after they cool enough to be handled after the blistering. They are also helped along if you can put them in a paper bag and let them steam a bit.

Remove veins and seeds along with the peel. For chopped or diced green chile, remove the stems and seeds. For whole chiles intended for rellenos, freeze them with their stems on and make a long slit down the side of the pod.

How to get consistent flavor over time with red chile:

I like to make my red chile with a blend of Chimayó, which is deep red and almost sweet, mix it with the same amount of Rancho Casados red which is a little brighter orangey red and tangier. Then a little bit of chipotle is added to give it a smoky flavor. This strategy is one that local restaurants use to keep a consistent red chile flavor for their dishes that seem to stay the same, despite variations in the prevailing harvest.

We’ve heard that chile gets hotter the longer it sits around, so if you’re using powdered chile in your cupboard that’s a couple of years old, be sure and back off a little until you can see how hot it’s going to get. The heat might creep up on you.