Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Green Chile Variations, pt. 1

green chiles fig. a:  garden-fresh chiles

If I'm totally honest, it all started sometime in the early '90s (!?!), when I took a road trip from Washington, D.C. to the Southwest and back.  Albuquerque was a primary destination, and I spent about a week in New Mexico with good friends, checking out the town, exploring the region, and sampling the local specialties.  That was when I first experienced Green Chile Madness.  Green chile sauces and stews were everywhere, and they were generally very good, and sometimes even phenomenal.  I was particularly enamoured of those green chile salsas and sauces and the way they adorned everything from nachos, to cheese fries, to egg dishes, home fries, and cheeseburgers, taking everything they touched to a higher level.  I quite literally couldn't get enough.

I've thought about New Mexico a lot ever since, and told many a soul about Green Chile Madness, but I've never been back.  And while I'm usually pretty adept at figuring out the recipes for prized dishes and replicating them in my home kitchen, for some reason, when it came to Chile Verde, I let it slip into what Calvin Trillin calls the Register of Frustration and Deprivation, a catalogue of favourite dishes that "rarely seem to be served outside their territory of origin."

About two years ago, however, I set about ushering Green Chile back into my life.  It started with a recipe for Green Chile Stew that appeared in David Tanis' A Platter of Figs And Other Recipes.  Tanis lived in New Mexico for a spell, so he knows his stuff, and he describes Green Chile Madness thusly:

In northern New Mexico, green chile stew is legendary.  Everybody makes it, everybody eats it, and everybody loves it, even if everybody makes a different version--with or without potatoes, or tomatoes, or cumin, or tomatillos, or cilantro, but never without a healthy amount of green chile.
Evidently he caught the bug bad--he claims to have traveled "with a handful of fresh chiles in [his] pocket" ever since, as a form of "culinary insurance" (for perking up bland dishes in chile-deprived regions of the world).

These days, you can find green chile stews and sauces across New Mexico at any time of year--it was April when I experienced my Green Chile Revelation.  But the chile harvest, as Tanis explains, is in the fall.  It's at this time of year that you find, people buying big bags of them, then lining up "to have them roasted by entrepreneurial chile roasters who set up in supermarket parking lots or at roadside stands."  It's the grilling of the green chiles that really makes the difference--it's that smokiness and that caramelization that you get from roasting them over an open fire that takes things to a higher level.

Anyway, Tanis' Green Chile Stew was probably the very first thing I made out of A Platter of Figs--I had very high hopes and I wasn't disappointed.

chile verde fig. b:  green chile stew 1

Green Chile Stew 
5 pounds well-marbled boneless pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes
salt and pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil or lard
2 large onions, finely diced
4 to 6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and finely ground
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
6 large carrots, peeled and chunked
1 cup chopped roasted green chiles*
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
8 cups water or chicken broth
3 lbs russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice
chopped cilantro
hot corn or flour tortillas 
Season the pork with salt and pepper.  Heat the oil or lard in a large Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot.  Add the meat, in several batches, without crowding, and brown it lightly.  Transfer to a platter or tray. 
Add the onions to the pot and brown them.  Add the garlic, cumin, tomatoes, carrots, and green chiles, then sprinkle the flour over and stir.  Salt the mixture, then return the browned meat to the pot and stir well.  Cover with the water or broth and bring to a boil. 
Cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and simmer gently for an hour. 
Taste the broth and adjust it, adding salt or more green chile as necessary.  The broth should be well seasoned and fairly spicy.  Add the potatoes and continue cooking for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft and the meat is quite tender.  Skim any fat from the surface of the broth. 
Let the stew rest for an hour or more.  Refrigerate overnight if desired (this allows the flavours to meld even more). 
To serve, reheat the stew and ladle into warmed bowls.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and accompany with hot tortillas. 
Serves 8 to 10. 
* Tanis notes that it takes about 12 large fresh chiles to produce 1 cup of chopped roasted chiles.  It's preferable to grill them over an open fire, but you can also blacken them under the broiler or directly over a gas burner, in a pinch.
Now, this makes for an excellent stew, and, like I said, I wasn't disappointed in the least.  But as Tanis mentioned above, one of the things about Green Chile Madness is that "everybody makes a different version."  Over the last couple of years, I've continued to follow the guidelines of Tanis' recipe, but I've come up with my own take on Green Chile Stew.

  • For one thing, we're hard pressed to find New Mexico green chiles here in the Montreal region, so I've had to improvise with the chiles.  I tend to use a mix of green chiles, one that includes everything from Poblanos, Anaheims, and Padróns, to Serranos, Jalapeños, and Cubanelles.  The larger, milder ones (the Poblanos, Anaheims, and Cubanelles) I grill over an open fire.  The hotter ones I sauté with the onions, after they've been browned
  • I've taken to replacing the tomatoes with tomatillos, especially around this time of year, when you can actually find lovely, local tomatillos here in Montreal (try the Birri Brothers stand at Jean-Talon Market).  I also use quite a bit more than half a cup.  The tomatillos give the stew tartness, additional sweetness, and a wonderful mouthfeel.
  • I always use chicken broth and not water.
  • I've taken to omitting the potatoes, which I find distract from the green chiles.
  • And I always replace the all-purpose flour with masa harina, which adds to the warmth of the dish.
Tanis prefers his Green Chile Stew "in a bowl, with warm, thick corn tortillas on the side," but it's also pretty great with good tortilla chips (see below), and it's great in a burrito.

chile verde + chips fig. c:  green chile stew 2



Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The One and Olney

olney garden fig. a:  tending the garden

I think it's safe to say that we, here at " endless banquet," have a certain affection for the late Richard Olney.  We never had the pleasure of meeting him, sadly, but we've developed quite a relationship with him through his books--they just contain so much character, so much passion, so much savoir-faire, not to mention a philosophy of life that we'd like to think we share.  From The French Menu Cookbook (voted #1 cookbook of all time (!) by the Observer Food Monthly in 2010) and Simple French Food, to mass-market ventures like his The Good Cook series for Time/Life Books and his Provence:  The Beautiful Cookbook, we never cease to be amazed by their enthusiasm and their erudition. Plus, he lived such a life--a life that brought him into contact with luminaries in the fields of literature, film, and art, a life of bohemianism and gastronomy, of total dedication to the culinary arts and the "divine alchemy" of wine.  And then there's his status as godfather to both the Californian cuisine of Chez Panisse and the natural wine connoisseurship of Kermit Lynch.

Alice Waters has written that she remembers every detail of her first visit to Olney's Provençal home in Solliès-Toucas:  the olive trees, the cicadas, the wild herbs, Olney's ever-so-casual gardening attire ("Richard received us wearing nothing but an open shirt, his skimpy bathing suit, a kitchen towel at his waist, and a pair of worn espadrilles."), and his ever-present Gauloise.  What stuck with her the most, however, was the memory of a "spectacular salad" that Olney served that day, "full of Provençal greens that were new to me--rocket, anise, hyssop--with perfectly tender green beans and bright nasturtium flowers tossed in, and dressed with the vinegar he makes himself from the ends of bottles of great wines."  Simple French food, indeed.

Sometimes we imagine ourselves arriving at Solliès-Toucas to dine on one of Olney's legendary meals (which were known to induce "a kind of ecstatic paralysis"), drink deeply, converse long into the night, and dance until dawn.

fireplace at Solliès fig. b:  "fireplace at Solliès"

Other times, we fantasize about Olney's phenomenal kitchen with its hand-built hearth and its copper pots.

olney duo fig. c:  the good cook does wine

Then there are times when we dream about discussing and practicing "the art of intelligent choice" with Olney.

Not only have we been known to dedicate special meals to Olney, but we often base decisions upon whether we think "Richard" would approve or not, especially when it comes time to throwing a party.

Well, it's time to celebrate the one and only Richard Olney once again.  Now's the time.  It's the height of harvest season, and many of the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that Olney adored are at their peak.

As you may know, Michelle and Seth have dedicated the month of September at FoodLab to Olney's beloved Provence.  You may also know that their frequent partner in crime, Theo Diamantis, of Oenopole, is something of a specialist when it comes to the wines of Provence, the southern Rhône, and Corsica, including Olney's beloved Bandols.  Are you starting to catch my drift?  Good, because next Tuesday, September 25, the third floor of the Sociéte des Arts Technologiques will be the site another phenomenal FoodLab/Oenopole co-production:  an Homage to Richard Olney.

The menu has been devised, the wines have been selected, and Michelle will only say that the evening promises to be "grandiose."  (Details to follow...)  So you won't have to resort to desperate measures.

Richard Olney Eats His Menufig. d:  desperate measures

Unlike some of Michelle's past collaborations, there'll be no fixed seatings for this particular menu and no reservations will be taken.  In other words, you'll be able to show up at any time between 5pm and 10pm, and you'll be able to order as little or as lot as you like, but, remember, this is a one night only affair.

An Homage to Richard Olney
Sociéte des Arts Technologiques
1201 St-Laurent Blvd
September 25, 2012
5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.
(you can find the Facebook page for this event here, if you're into that kind of thing, but I'm pretty sure "Richard" would be disdainful of your dependence on the social media*)


* Ha, ha...

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Top Ten #46


1.  Kamouraska

2.  David Grann, "The Yankee Comandante:  A Story of Love, Revolution, and Betrayal," The New Yorker, May 28, 2012

bill fay

3.  Bill Fay, Life is People (Dead Oceans)

lake girl 2

lake girl 3

4.  cottage weekends

green chiles

padróns 2

5.  green chile summer

6.  Ian Frazier, Travels in Siberia



7.  more summer swimming & picnicking

8.  Cat Power, "Cherokee" + "Ruin" (Matador)

coq asian banh mi

9.  Coq Asian

 mm in the dome2