Yesterday, I did my best to help out a misplaced Denverite looking to get his fix of a very particular kind of green chile--the sort made only by the various relations of Stella Cordova at Chubby's in Denver. Chubby's is a disparate local chain of (kinda) beloved taquerias that exist primarily to feed long-time fans, late-night drunks with a taste for burritos and those who, in their chile-eating, have progressed to the point where they need the vicious burn of a super-hot verde just to get up and going in the morning.
I liked Chubby's a lot when I was in Denver, and I miss it now that it's twenty hours away. But in the course of yesterday's reverie and plea for help in finding some local verde that might approximate the pride of Chubby's, it appears I forgot that most people from the Pacific Northwest likely had no idea what actual green chile (spelled with an e, not an i, because chili-with-an-i is something different entirely) was or how to recognize it even if they did stumble across it while out at a restaurant. One of my favorite blog watchdogs reminded me, though. In the comments section, Cat Scratch Feeder wrote:
I can tell you all about smoked salmon and the variations, but can you explain just exactly what constitutes a "Green Chile" and how it's prepared? Is it a dish, a sauce, soup or a topping? I got a feeling it's all that. Is it a roasted green chile salsa, Chile Verde with big pork chunks, or Caldillo-Green chile Stew/soup with bits of pork and pork stock, or Pozole? Tomatillos, yes or no? Anaheims, Poblanos, Big Jim's? Are certain woods best for roasting? What spices are used? Help an Oysterhead out with the chile nuance.
Tomatillos, yes or no?
Anaheims, Poblanos, Big Jim's?
Are certain woods best for roasting?
What spices are used?
Help an Oysterhead out with the chile nuance.
It would be my pleasure, Scratch. Let me take your queries one at a time.
First off, "a green chile" would be a reference to the direct article, the actual chile itself--in this case meaning the unripe pod, picked before it begins to turn red. (Red chile sauce is a whole other discussion...) I would make the argument that this also means a New Mexican green chile, an Anaheim pepper grown only in the state of New Mexico. Why? Because there is some kind of magic in the soil in the Land of Enchantment which has to do with climate, sunshine, soil, ancient Indian burial grounds, the influence of space aliens or ley lines. Whatever the reason, New Mexican chiles grow bigger, hotter and sweeter than they do anywhere else in the world, and among all the various varieties and species out there, it's the Hatch chile (from Hatch, NM) that is the best in the world.
The preparation of "a green chile" is simple. They're picked green, loaded into the back of a thousand old pickup trucks, roasted in giant propane-fired tumblers that roar like a fighter jet's afterburners, and sold on every streetcorner, in every market, by every highway off-ramp in the state during chile season, along with pinon, crystal meth, fry bread and jerky of questionable provenance.
Dropping the "a" and talking about just "green chile?" Now we're into something completely different. You ask if it is a dish, a sauce, a soup or a topping and the answer is yes--it's all that and more. Whole, freshly roasted green chiles are best used to top cheeseburgers. Chopped green chiles are used to top everything else. Simmered with some chicken stock and thickened with arrowroot, green chile can be turned into a sauce. Skip the arrowroot and add some vegetables, potatoes, maybe a little chicken, and it is a soup or stew: caldillo, by any other name. Add hominy and it is posole. Move a couple hundred miles north, chop the chiles finer, use pork stock, big chunks of roasted pork and a corn starch slurry instead of arrowroot and you have Colorado-style green chile (also know just as verde)--a distinct regional variation that is used as a sauce, a topping and as a standalone meal: a dip for fresh flour tortillas.
You ask about tomatillos. I say no. But then, I am a purist. Many cooks and kitchens use tomatillos as a kind of buffer--mitigating the heat of the green chile with the vegetable sweetness of the tomatillo. You ask about varieties and I say Anaheims are where it's at. Spices? No. The green chile is one of nature's most ideal creations all on its own, and to add spice is only to fuck with perfection. Traditional green chile will have no spices added other than, perhaps, a little salt and black pepper. But it should be noted that cumin, oregano and coriander do occasionally find their way into the pot. And as for the roasting, some fancy-pants chefs will use wood to roast and smoke their chiles (mesquite and cottonwood would be the most appropriate, I suppose), but the true method is, as mentioned above, propane fire on a warm autumn afternoon. On the best days, the entire city of Albuquerque will smell of hot asphalt and chiles roasting in their cages under an endless blue sky. It is one of the greatest smells on earth.
Hope that helped, Scratch. And while I've gotten several suggestions for where home cooks can find green chiles in stores, I'm still looking for any restaurants that make a go at reproducing either the New Mexican or Coloradan version of green chile. So if any of you out there know of a place, holla.