Sunday, October 16, 2011

Authentic New Mexico Green Chile Gravy

Forgive the long, wordy post (I've posted the recipe before, but I can't help myself).

Today's post for Vegan Month of Gravy travels to one of my VERY favorite parts of the country, the sunny, dusty Southwest, to bring you one of New Mexico's signature dishes, Green Chile Sauce; more fondly called Green Chile Gravy, especially by the state's "old-time" residents. And it is essentially a "gravy" with green chiles added.

If you've been fortunate enough to visit, or live, anywhere near the spectacular "Land of Enchantment", you'll have discovered that this delicious gravy-sauce and it's counterpart, Red Chile Sauce, are EVERYWHERE, even McDonald's sells green chile burgers!

This is not some Tex-Mex vinigar-y, tomatillo-jalapeno-cilantro "green" spicy sauce, but a totally different creation alltogether. New Mexico green chile gravy contains none of the above ingredients but is instead simple, earthy and made up primarily of smoky, roasted peppers.

To make it right, you'll need real, genuine New Mexico green chiles. If you can't locate them locally (and few of us can) New Mexico's famous chiles are available shipped fresh, for a price, or better yet, go visit during chile harvest. Totally worth the trip.

The fat, green chiles (sometimes called "Hatch chiles" after the town where large numbers are grown) have a distinct, fruity, rich flavor, with a mellow but building heat. Sometimes they're hotter than others. They've been compared to Anaheim chiles, but seriously - there's no comparison.

During chile season, the peppers are roasted outdoors over fire in these big, rotating, round wire drums. You can smell chile smoke as they char, and hear the seeds and skins popping and crackling from blocks away. Totally an experience!! When it's time to use them, the skins are peeled off and the soft chiles are chopped and cooked in whatever recipe.
The red chile is actually the same pepper, but picked later in the season so it is red (ripe), it's not roasted, but dried, ground into powder and blended with liquid to make the thick, dark, spicy, red chile sauce.

For you trivia nerds (OK, maybe that's just me) chile peppers are New Mexico's largest agricultural crop; used at practically every meal, celebrated in songs and at festivals, and the subject of the Official New Mexico State Question, "Red or green?"
The question refers to the color of chile you want on your food and you'll get asked at every Mexican (or New Mexican, sorry!!) restaurant. (And the correct answer? "Christmas". Meaning you'll have both red AND green.)

I think the reason many of us know very little about New Mexico's green chiles is because they don't transport so well. They're a fragile seasonal vegetable, (well, yes, technically a fruit) and the only way to really appreciate them is freshly fire-roasted, though the fire-roasted, frozen variety are actually surprisingly good that's your second choice. Tasteless, acidic, canned, slimy green chiles are absolutely not an option here. Stop reading now if you think you're going to try this recipe with canned green slug peppers.

Most larger grocery stores stock the frozen tubs of "Bueno Foods" brand frozen roasted chiles though, and they will work nicely for this sauce (they're also less labor intensive, as they've been chopped and peeled for you); but for me, there's just something magical about buying a package of smoky, still-warm, freshly-roasted chiles early in the morning at the Farmer's Market in Santa Fe...

Anyway - exciting news, (for me anyway), two years ago, our "local" (Seattle) Whole Foods brought in some Hatch chiles and an authentic roaster for the fall, and I was able to get fresh-roasted green chiles without traveling half-way across the country to get my "fix".

I tend to LOVE anything New Mexico, can you tell? This gravy-sauce (which isn't a bright cilantro green, but more tannish-roasty-green color) is absolutely heavenly, and perfect over enchiladas, tamales, chile rellanos, burritos, potatoes or grits especially.

New Mexico's Famous Green Chile Gravy

3 tablespoons oil or margarine
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup onion , chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
2 cups roasted, peeled/seeded/chopped New Mexican green chile peppers
3 cups vegetarian chicken-flavor broth
1 teaspoon salt
(optional: a pinch of oregano and/or a pinch of cumin can be added if you prefer a bit more spice, personally I like mine plain.)

In heavy-bottomed sauce pan, saute onions in oil, stirring every now and then, over medium heat, until they begin to brown. Add garlic and tomatoes and cook another 2 minutes but do NOT let garlic brown.
Stir flour in with onion mixture. Stir a bit and let flour "cook" for a few minutes. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in broth.
Add green chilies, salt (if needed) and oregano and cumin (if using) and mix well.
Bring to a boil, lower heat but keep at a simmer, stirring with wire whisk frequently, 20 to 30 minutes, to allow mixture to reduce.
The sauce should be like a medium-to-thin gravy and bind chilies and onions together.
Store in refrigerator up to a week if you can resist drinking it straight from the pan.


Caity said...

Looks good! Thanks for sharing :)

Little Red Hens said...

This looks just awesome!