I have good news and bad news for New Jersey residents. The good news is that New Mexico green chile is finally available in this state. The bad news is that by the time you read this, it’s probably already gone.
For natives of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern regions of the United States, a legitimate question might be, “What the hell is New Mexico green chile, and why should I care?” To answer that, you need to discover what the rest of the country already knows — New Mexico green chile is god’s gift to humankind!
Some might say that to truly understand the appeal, you would have to visit New Mexico and sample its cuisine in the proper setting. I’m going to take a broader view, and suggest that the arrival of green chile east of the Delaware is like receiving an emissary from a faraway land, one who offers new tastes and smells to brighten our otherwise dreary existence.
Yesterday I traveled 45 miles from my house to a grocery store parking lot where green chile was being roasted in a carnival-like atmosphere. I would have traveled farther if necessary. Two years ago I drove more than 200 miles to find it, and counted myself lucky!
Green chile is at the very foundation of New Mexico cooking. Having once lived in Santa Fe, I acquainted myself with the state’s sights, smells, flavors and mystique to the point that I made a solemn vow that no matter where I lived, green chile would remain a part of my life until the end of time.
Yesterday, while waiting for my crate of green chile to be roasted, I chatted with the representative of Melissa’s Produce, who told me this year’s visit to New Jersey is all about educating the public and expanding the market. From the quizzical looks on most customers’ faces, I observed that Melissa’s has a long way to go before achieving that goal.
One woman took a look at how much I was buying and asked, “Are you having a party?” I had to explain that no, I was just buying enough for my wife and I, and that it would bring gladness to our hearts through a cold New Jersey winter.
Indeed, we took home our steaming box of chile, salivating over the delicious smell, then spent the afternoon processing it, bagging it, and placing the little packages of green gold into the freezer. Well, we might have also sampled a bite of two!
Although Melissa’s is doing its best to introduce people to their product, I don’t think they were quite prepared for the utter lack of understanding they encountered here. Some foods were available for people to sample, but I saw little in the way of anything people could take home, like recipe cards or processing instructions.
It was a little sad, and I told the representative that so many people simply don’t know what they’re missing. I told him I’d do my small part by blogging about it, hoping that every little bit helps.
In the spirit of spreading the Green Chile Gospel, below is the recipe I use for a nice green chile sauce. It’s been lifted from Feast of Santa Fe by Huntley Dent. That cookbook wasn’t my first New Mexico cookbook, but it’s one of my favorites, and is still available on Amazon.
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 small white onion
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp. flour
1/3 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1.5 cups chicken broth
1 cup chopped green chile
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. salt
Heat the oil in a saucepan and cook the onions and garlic together for about five minutes, just to wilt the onions. Stir in the flour, cumin and black pepper, stirring for two minutes to cook the rawness out of the flour. The onions may ball up into clumps at this stage, but that does not matter. When the onions/flour mixture starts to brown a little, remove pan from heat and gradually stir in the broth. Stir constantly with a wire whisk to prevent lumps. Add all the rest of the ingredients, turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The finished sauce should coat a spoon. If it’s too thick, gradually add more broth until reaching the desired consistency.
Variation: When the sauce is cooked and still warm (but not overly hot), gradually add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of heavy cream, then puree in a blender until very smooth. Reheat gently, but don’t boil or the sauce will curdle. This is excellent on chicken enchiladas.
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The schedule for Melissa’s and Wegmans is getting down to a precious few days, but if you hurry, you might still find some fresh green chile. At any rate, save the link and look for it to be updated next year. The smell and taste of fresh green chile from New Mexico is something you won’t want to miss!