Chile also refers to the elemental sauces created from red and green chile. These may or may not be vegetarian – green chile sauce, especially, is often made with pork or beef. The sauces are what you’re being asked to choose between with the state question, “red or green?” If you order any New Mexican food, you will be asked that question, so be ready to answer. The indecisive may choose “Christmas” – Arne always does. I started out a green-chile girl, but have learned to love a well-made red (many versions are too bitter). Its deep, spicy earthiness loves corn tortillas, beans, and eggs. There is no more soulful New Mexican food, in my opinion, than a simple “bowl of red” with a hot tortilla. (The best rendition of both red chile and hand-rolled flour tortillas in Albuquerque is at Duran’s, either the food counter hidden in back of the Pharmacy or at the Station.) Or gild the lily with a spoonful of beans and a scattering of cheddar cheese.
This simple bowl once had a vegetarian friend of mine nearly in tears from joy. She was also from a place where “chili” had one meaning, and that meaning included meat in almost all renditions. A bowl of red chile with beans gave her something she hadn’t been able to touch for years.
This recipe is not that, as you may guess from the porky picture above. (Though I imagine a meatless version could be very effective, with Soyrizo in place of the chorizo and pork butt.) This has been my go-to chili recipe for years, the one I start to crave the minute a fall chill touches the air. I created it in early fall of 2005. It’s called “Triple-3 Chili” in my recipe notebook, because it originally had three kinds of pork as well as three kinds each of chile and beans. However, I found that the bacon got lost and dropped it from the recipe.
The three kinds of chile (four if you count good old-fashioned chili powder – I use Penzey’s) really do add incredible complexity and depth to this chili. Ancho is fairly mild, a deep bass note to match its dark color. Bright red New Mexico red chile is slightly hotter (generally – it depends on the specific batch) and makes a nice middle note. Chipotle is dried and smoked red jalapeno; it tends to be fairly hot. The natural brightness of the jalapeno adds a top note, but its smokiness rounds it out and elevates anything it’s added to. All that said, if you don’t have all three, this will still be great with just a couple kinds of chile. The finished chili is fairly spicy; if you don’t love it hot, try halving the chile to start. You can add more if it seems too mild. And a dollop of sour cream always helps to tame the burn!
This brick-red stew hearkens back to those long-simmered chilis of my childhood, but the quantity and intensity of chile, as well as the use of cubed pork (commonly used in green chile stew) instead of ground beef, makes it solidly Southwestern. Cubed pork butt also means it needs to simmer for a long time to make the meat meltingly, luxuriously tender. Set it on the back burner (or in the oven) in the afternoon and let it cook until dinnertime.
Three Bean, Three Chile Chili
Serves: 6 to 8 Time: 4 or 5 hours Hands-on: 45 minutes
2 oz pork chorizo (raw Mexican-style, not cured Spanish)
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, if needed
1 pound boneless pork butt, in 3/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon powdered ancho chile
1 tablespoon powdered New Mexico red chile
1/2 tablespoon powdered chipotle
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon dried oregano
5 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 cup water
1 14-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes (Muir Glen fire-roasted, if you can get them)
1 can black beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can dark red kidney beans
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Salt to taste
In a large Dutch oven with a lid, saute the chorizo over medium heat, breaking it up as much as possible. Remove to a paper towel-lined bowl to drain, leaving a tablespoon or so of drippings in the pot. Saute the onion in the drippings until translucent, then remove to paper towel with chorizo. Cook the pork butt in the same pot until well browned, adding a little oil if needed. Work in batches if necessary to avoid crowding.
While the pork is cooking, combine the chili powder, powdered chiles, brown sugar, oregano, garlic, and water in a medium bowl. Stir together into a paste. Set aside.
When the pork is done, return the chorizo and onion to the pot. Stir in the chile paste until all the pork is coated. Add the tomatoes and stir well to combine.
Simmer, covered, for at least 90 minutes (preferably two hours) either over low heat on the stovetop or in a 350-degree oven. Drain and rinse all three kinds of beans and stir in. Return to the heat and cook at least another 90 minutes – preferably 2 to 3 hours – checking occasionally that the chili has not thickened too much. If it’s thicker than you like it or is starting to stick, add a half cup of water. The pork should be very tender at the end of the cooking time.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar. Taste to see if it needs any salt or another teaspoon of vinegar, and add some if it does. Serve hot, with cornbread or tortillas.