Pork and Red Chile Stew

Versions of this very traditional all-American stew can be found in nearly every home, diner and fancy restaurant in New Mexico. It’s based on the wildly popular New Mexican chile pepper.

This is the same chile variety used for roasted fresh green chiles, but left to ripen to deep red and dried. Strings of these fairly large chiles, called ristras, are often seen hanging from the front porches or in the kitchens in New Mexico to dry.
They are generally sweeter and milder than the red chiles grown in California, and often will have no heat at all (as was the case with the chiles shown in the photos here.) These dried chiles can be found in many major supermarkets these days, usually in the Mexican food aisle, or very easily on-line.

When meat or poultry are stewed in the pureed pulp, the result is a rich, fragrant, deep red stew that is served as it is with warm flour tortillas or cornbread for soaking up the sauce. The meat is also often shredded to use as a filling for burritos, enchiladas and tamales with the sauce reserved for serving on top.

When purchasing the dried pods for this recipe, look for chiles that are marked “New Mexico” chiles. Other dried red chiles (such as California chiles) may also be used, but be aware that your stew will likely be very spicy, not a bad thing if fiery food is to your liking. The New Mexico chiles are more mellow, sweeter and fragrant than other varieties.

This is the basic recipe that is most often served in New Mexican homes. Some cooks add a south-of-the-border Mexican flavor to the stew by adding oregano, cumin and sometimes a cinnamon stick or splash of vinegar to the sauce while simmering. We like the simple, pure flavor of these lovely chiles and think the flavor of the pork is all the stew needs. It’s entirely up to you.

This recipe makes quite a bit of sauce (often referred to as Chile Colorado). Freeze any leftover sauce for use as a base in your next batch of chile con carne, huevos rancheros or enchiladas. Both the meat and the sauce freeze beautifully.

A note of caution….you won’t want to wear white clothing while making this. The puree is vibrant red and will stain. But view this as a good thing, these chiles are loaded with anti-oxidants and vitamin C.

Pork and Red Chile Stew

1 ½ lbs boneless pork shoulder cut into 1 inch cubes
8 oz dried red New Mexico chiles
6 cups chicken broth
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & black pepper
Vegetable oil

To prepare the pods, simply snip the stem ends off, cut a slit down the side and remove as many of the dried seeds as possible. The seeds add nothing to the dish. I like to do this with a pair of kitchen sheers over my kitchen sink, or better yet, outdoors since the seeds tend to fly all over. Don’t fret if a few seeds remain.

Place the pods in a large bowl and cover with enough boiling broth to cover and set aside to soften and cool. Reserve the remaining broth for later. The chiles will become very soft and turn bright red as they cool.

While the chiles are cooling, season the pork cubes with salt and black pepper. Heat a Dutch oven sized pan to medium. Pat the pork cubes dry with paper towels and brown in a bit of vegetable oil.

When the chiles are softened and cooled, puree the chiles with the garlic in a blender or food processor along with enough of the soaking liquid to allow the chiles to process to a smooth puree. Add the puree to the browned pork cubes. Add enough of the remaining broth to thin to the consistency of tomato sauce. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.

Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally for 1 to 1 ½ hours until the pork is very tender. If the sauce thickens too much, add a bit of any leftover broth or water.

Serve with warm tortillas, cornbread, beans or rice.

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