Greetings from New Mexico.
We rolled into Albuquerque right at sunset – magnificent — and just in time for dinner. The locals eat what to me was a mysterious dish called green chile stew. Not so mysterious in a state where red and green chiles are at the center of local cuisine.
We learned that the place to try the stew — and other signature New Mexico dishes — was the Frontier Restaurant, which is right across from the University of New Mexico and open every day from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. Every city has one — the spot each local has hit at least once and everyone rolling through town has to check off of the list. It’s where they serve the iconic, city-defining dish. So green chile stew at the Frontier it was.
We walked into a huge mess hall decorated with a collection of John Wayne portraits, antique rifles, steer horns and romantic paintings of soaring eagles, bold stallions and Pueblo pottery. It was populated from every demographic – students, professors, families with kids and older folks who had probably been having their green chile stew there since the Frontier Restaurant opened in 1971.
We followed the crowd, waiting in line until a green light flashed, indicating someone was ready to take our order. Two minutes later, the food was ready for us to carry to our table on plastic trays. We went with the green chile stew, posole, a taco salad and another signature item, an enormous sticky bun — all of which totaled a whopping 17 bucks. There also appeared a paper plate piled with hot-off-the-fire flour tortillas for dunking in the green chile stew and posole.
While not normally my kind of food, everything I ate made me extremely happy. The stew was robust and flavorful more than spicy hot, though the green chile flavor was pronounced. The posole was remarkable — a sort of red chile stew. It had heat, but the hominy rounded it out and made it smooth and lovely. The sticky bun was hot, gooey and smothered with a cinnamon-sugar glaze. This all was perfect fortification for the last few hours of driving until we stopped for the night in Clovis, N.M., for a good night’s rest. After all, next up we gotta go big – we’re on to Texas.
Green chile stew is a New Mexico staple, and you'll find it on the menu at many of the restaurants in the Southwest. There is always much debate -- thick or thin, tomatoes or tomatillos, potatoes or flour, oregano or cumin, loin or shoulder. Everyone has an opinion, and theirs is the best. This recipe is the simple base used by many cooks. Build on it to make it your own, using fresh, roasted chiles from the market when available.
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground
- 1 tablespoon oil, for frying
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 cup diced potatoes
- 1/2 to 1 cup chopped green chile, to taste
- 1 quart chicken stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Warm flour tortillas (as a side)
Heat a heavy skillet on the stovetop. Add the coriander seeds, shaking the skillet often until the seeds become aromatic and lightly brown. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and grind. Set aside.
Heat oil to shimmering in a large saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add ground pork and chopped onion, breaking apart pork into small pieces. When pork is no longer pink and onions are transluscent, add garlic and cook for 30 seconds or so. Sprinkle with flour and stir to combine.
Add coriander, potatoes and 1/2 cup green chile, reserving rest of green chile to add later if necessary. Add chicken stock and stir. Bring to simmer and cook, covered, until potatoes are just tender, 20-30 minutes.
Add salt and pepper, then taste. If desired, add additional green chile, no more than a couple tablespoons at a time and simmering for 1 or 2 minutes after each addition before tasting. Remember that each batch of green chile is different in both flavor and heat, and it's always better to start small and go bigger, because there's not a lot you can do to tame a volcanic green chile stew.
Remove from heat, ladle into bowls and serve with warm flour tortillas.