Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Red or Green?

Chile is so important to New Mexican cuisine that New Mexico has an official state question: "Red or Green?" I spent a bunch of time in that beautiful state back in my teens and early 20's and I came to love dishes smothered in chile. My answer to the question: Green! I don't dislike red chile in any way, but I love the nuance that I am able to impart to green chile and we often have chile verde and salsa verde on the menu at the restaurant because of that.

Fried Tortillas with Beans, Poached Eggs, and Chile Verde
Yesterday was an early day for me (home by 2pm) and that let me tackle a more complex dinner than I would have with less time. My ladies at the grocery store perked up a little when they saw what I was buying, probably because they recognized all the ingredients in my basket. I usually have all kinds of Asian ingredients that they can't relate to, but yesterday's haul of pork neck bones, pinto beans, corn tortillas, tomatillos, and cilantro prompted the inevitable questions about what I was making for dinner.

And I told them that I was making a version of huevos rancheros with salsa verde instead of salsa ranchera and poached eggs instead of fried. It was Ann who got me thinking along these lines and I am glad she did because last night's dinner was AWESOME!

Broiling Poblanos, Tomatillos, and Garlic
When I first got home, I wanted to get the stock for the chile verde going so that it could simmer and do its thing while Ann and I went out on the patio and enjoyed the unseasonably warm temperatures. The first step was to put poblano chiles, tomatillos, and whole peeled cloves of garlic on a sheet tray under the broiler on high. I turned the poblanos once when they had blistered on the first side and then removed the sheet tray from the oven once the second side had blistered. Into a plastic bag with the poblanos so that they could steam a bit and into the stock with the garlic and tomatillos.

Putting a Hard Sear on Pork Neck Bones, Onion, and Cilantro Stems
I got a shallow stock pot really hot on the stove and put in the pork neck bones to get a good, hard sear. To this I added half a large yellow onion, cut into chunks, with the skin still on, and all the stems from a bunch of cilantro. After turning the neck bones until they were well caramelized on all sides, I added water to cover and brought it to a simmer. In went the roasted garlic and tomatillos, along with an avocado leaf, and all bubbled away for a couple hours.

The Secret to Awesome Frijoles Refritos: Bacon, Onion, and Garlic
Just before dinner, I made some refried beans. Well, I cheated. I decided that on a non-weekend night with limited time and limited patience for dirty dishes that I just wasn't up to cooking beans from scratch, so I bought a big can of already cooked and roughly mashed pinto beans, knowing that I could doctor them and make them awesome. When buying pre-prepared ingredients such as this, something I almost never do, I always check the ingredients to know exactly what I am buying. In this case: pinto beans, lard, and salt. Perfect.

You can see in the photo above that I finely chopped some bacon, the other half of the onion that I used in the stock, and some garlic and slowly sweated it down. To this I added the beans and water and seasoned with salt as necessary.

The Green Pork Stock Before Thickening
To make the chile verde, I removed the neck bones to a plate to cool, and fished out the avocado leaf, the onion skins (which float), and any tough tomatillo skins that I could grab with my tongs. In went the immersion blender and I blended it smooth as you see above. At this point, I picked what meat I could off the neck bones and peeled, seeded, and chopped the four roasted poblanos. Into the pan went the poblanos and pork and I turned up the flame to get a low boil. I then whisked in a scant quarter of a cup of masa harina and let it cook another five minutes to slightly thicken the sauce. The chile verde wanted a good bit of salt at this point, not having been seasoned at all during cooking (and this is always a good idea with highly reduced sauces: season after the reduction, not before!).

Ann joined me in the kitchen and helped fry the tortillas and slice an avocado while I poached us two eggs apiece. And from there, it was just a tiny bit of assembly: frijoles refritos down on the plate, two tortillas over, two poached eggs over that, chile verde over all, and a scattering of green onions and cilantro on top. OMG, so awesome!!

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