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08/06/2017

~ New Mexico's Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce ~

IMG_2385Red or green?  That's the question you'll be asked in every New Mexican restaurant.  In fact, New Mexico is the only state in the USA that has an official state question:  "Red or Green?"  I learned that on my first trip through New Mexico, and, I was further told, "if you're not asked this question in a New Mexican restaurant, you're not eating New Mexican food."  While many of us out-of-staters (who love our Mexican and Texican fare) generically refer to this type of red or green chile pepper- or powder-based sauce as "enchilada sauce", and, mistakenly assume it's reserved for enchiladas, in New Mexico, you'll learn that almost everything gets smothered in it.  You name it, the dish gets sauced.  Can't decide?  Just answer "Christmas" -- they'll bring you both.

A bit about New Mexican chile (w/an "e") peppers:

RedGreenWebChile with an "e", is the fruit of the Capsicum plant and New Mexico is known for its fresh and dried red and green chile peppers -- they grow in abundance everywhere and it's believed they were brought to NM, from Central America, by the Spanish, in the 1500's.  The most common New Mexican chile is long, narrow and picked while green Hatch-chile-split(similar in appearance to the Anaheim) and is mostly grown from heirloom seeds.  "New Mexico chiles" can be from anywhere in New Mexico, and, when buying any green or red NM chiles, they're usually offered up as mild, medium, hot, or extra hot, meaning:  not as a specific variety.  That said, the Hatch chile is from Hatch, a small village in the southern part of the state, and, while it's not a variety of chile pepper, both inside and outside the state of New Mexico, it's sold as a "Hatch chile".  It's become so popular that every Labor Day weekend, Hatch, known as the Chile Capital of the World, hosts a Hatch Chile Festival, which draws more than 30,000 people each year.

"e" or "i" -- know what the spelling means & you'll know what's in it:

CHILE:  Spelled with an "e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family (example:  chile peppers grow in the garden).

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (example:  white chicken chili, chili con carne, chili sauce).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with an "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more types of dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of chile powder and ground, dried spices (common examples:  ground cumin, garlic and/or onion powder), meaning: the manufacturer has added various spices to pure chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

What's the difference between red & green enchilada sauce?

IMG_2311New-Mexico-style red enchilada sauce uses red ingredients: red chiles or red chile powder and/or red tomatoes. Their green enchilada sauce uses green ingredients:  green chiles or green hatch chiles and tomatillos.  Both contain spices, garlic and/or onion, and vinegar, and, like salsa, they can be enjoyed raw or cooked.  A common misconception is:  green chile sauce is mild and red chile sauce is hot.  Not true.  Both range from mild and soothing to knock-your-socks-off hot.  

TomatilloTomatillo, also called "tomate verde", means "husk tomato" with "verde" meaning "green" in Spanish. The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, which, while related to the red tomato family, and remarkably similar in appearance to the green tomato, cannot be used interchangeably with green tomatoes.  It's a staple in every Tex-Mex gardener's garden.  The fruit of the tomatillo is green and relatively small compared to red tomatoes (about the size of a large, cherry tomato).  They grow to maturity inside of an inedible husk (which gets disgarded), and, range in color from pale green to  light brown.  The tomatillo is a staple in Mexican ethnic cuisine.

IMG_2303That said, here in Happy Valley, fresh tomatillos are sometimes hard to find, and, even when I find them, it's always a bit of a hassle to ask the produce manager if I can peel back the husks to insure the fruit is firm (not squishy) and ripe (green).  

In case you don't know, always look for tomatillos that have filled their husks or broken through their husks (photo to right) -- no matter their size, this means they're fully mature. Avoid tomatillos that look withered or dried out (see photo below).  

IMG_2306Once you get them home, remove the husks and rinse the tomatillos off (because they will be sticky), then use them as directed (which typically requires simmering or broiling as the first step) and/or store in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.  That said, high quality canned tomatillos are a staple in my pantry. They've already been simmered until soft -- all I have to do is thoroughly drain them. Speaking in approximations, I've deduced:

one 28-ounce can = 2 pounds fresh 

New Mexico-style red & green "enchilada sauces" are both relatively simple to prepare w/the green sauce being more refined & requiring a tad (not much) more effort.

My green enchilada sauce starts out in the food processor, simmers on the stovetop, then, ends up back in the food processor at the end.  It's easy, it just takes quite a bit more time than the 15 minutes it takes me to make red enchilada sauce.  I use chicken stock to make it, because I like green sauce served with chicken enchiladas, whereas I use beef stock in my red sauce, because I like it served with my recipes for spicy ground beef enchiladas and cheese, corn and bean enchiladas. In a stockpot:  Use beef, chicken or vegetable stock, depending on the filling.

IMG_23232  tablespoons neutral-flavored cooking oil (avocado, corn or vegetable, etc.)

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

3  large,  whole, peeled garlic cloves, smashed & minced

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce & Gravy

1  14-ounce can tomatillos, well-drained

1  cup Santé Fe Seasons Hatch green chiles, hot or medium, your choice, or, canned green chiles (your favorite brand) (Note:  The Hatch green chiles I order from Apple Canyon Gourmet, are roasted and contain garlic and lime juice, instead of vinegar, which I like a lot, and, their product is far and above better than other store-bought brands.)

1  large, green jalapeño pepper, seeds and white rib sections removed, coarsely-chopped

1 cup minced cilantro leaves, some stems are ok

2  teaspoons fresh lime juice

1  14 1/2-ounce can chicken stock

2  teaspoons ground cumin

1  teaspoon dried Mexican oregano leaves

2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_2325 IMG_2327 IMG_2331 IMG_2333~Step 1.  Place the oil, diced onion and minced garlic in a 3-quart saucier or saucepan over medium-high heat.  Sauté until onion and garlic are tender, about 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for another full minute.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_2334 IMG_2338~ Step 2.  Place tomatillos, Hatch chiles, jalapeño, cilantro and lime juice in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, process to a purée.

IMG_2341 IMG_2345 IMG_2352 IMG_2355~Step 3.  Stir the purée into the onion and garlic mixture in the saucier, then add the chicken stock, cumin, Mexican oregano, sugar, salt and black pepper.  Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, adjust heat to a steady simmer, and continue to cook until nicely thickened, 25-30 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover, and allow to cool 25-30 minutes.

Take a taste & adjust seasoning if necessary...

IMG_2363... but you won't have to.  It's divine.

IMG_2368 IMG_2370 IMG_2377~ Step 4.  Return sauce mixture to the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  With motor running, purée, 30-45 seconds.  You will have 3 cups of New Mexico-style green chile "enchilada" sauce.  Cha-cha-cha!

Enjoy a taste of New Mexico's finest.  Chips & dip tonight -- Green Hatch Chile Chicken Enchiladas tomorrow!

IMG_2404New Mexico's Hatch Green Chile Enchilada Sauce:  Recipe yields 3 cups "enchilada" sauce, which freezes well.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3-quart saucier or stockpot w/lid; large spoon; food processor

IMG_1650Cook's Note:  I don't proclaim my recipe for ~ Easy New Mexico-Style Red Enchilada Sauce ~ easy because I make an easy version of a hard recipe.  This chile powder-based sauce is so easy to make, I haven't a clue why folks purchase any watered-down canned versions.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

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