Was October a strange month for y’all? It sure was for me. Every time I turned around, it seemed something had gone awry. Whether it was the computer meltdown we had in Phoenix, my erasing almost 200 photos when I accidentally formatted the wrong memory card, gifts I had ordered being sent to the wrong people, important emails ending up in the junk-mail folder or just the endless games of phone tag I played with my friends, almost nothing I did this month was clear and simple.
Now some people chalked up these bizarre twists and turns in communication to Mercury being retrograde. And my being a Gemini, I was doubly doomed as this planet is my ruler. But I don’t believe in that stuff. Not really, anyway. But since Mercury is supposed to un-retrograde soon (I’m not quite sure what a planet going retrograde really means), let’s hope that the rest of the year proceeds without too many more hiccups.
As I’ve been fiddling with one mishap after another, I’d forgotten that October was National Chili Month, an occasion I’m always eager to celebrate. And now that we have proper jacket-and-scarf weather happening in New York City, spending a few hours at the stove is a welcome prospect. Heck, downright necessary as it can get quite nippy inside my apartment.
Last year I discussed the merits of Texas Red. That will always be my benchmark chili—the one to which all others will be compared. But a few years ago I got it into my head to start making green chili as well. I thought it would be festive, especially around Christmas, to have big bubbling pots of red and green chili side by side. I didn’t hail from a green chili tradition, however, so I turned to a friend from New Mexico on how to make it since that state is known for its green chili.
We were at the movies and I didn’t have a pen or paper handy, so I asked him what he put in his chili just hoping I’d remember. He told me a list of ingredients and his method, which after watching the film I promptly forgot. No matter, I didn’t use a recipe for my red so I reckoned I didn’t need one for my green.
I simmered pounds of chopped pork back with only green chiles (jalapenos, poblanos and serranos) and only green herbs (cilantro and Mexican oregano). I threw in some tomatillos, chicken broth, beer, garlic and onions for good measure, and after a few hours I had a pot of tender pork nestled in a thick, fiery gravy. It wasn’t exactly green, but there were enough green spots dotted around the bowl for me to feel triumphant. Plus, the texture was dense, as a good chili should be, but the tomatillos and cilantro added a welcome brightness. I loved it.
Soon after, my New Mexican friends invited me over for dinner. And on the menu was green chili—New Mexican green chili. And while they shared similar ingredients, it was nothing like mine. Where mine had heat, theirs was more subtly spiced. Where mine stuck to the spoon, theirs was more liquid with distinct chunks of meat. Two completely different dishes, and yet both were welcome on a cold night. “I guess I didn’t follow your directions very well,” I told my friends. They laughed and said it didn’t matter, as my version, while essentially wrong could still be considered right.
So even if I didn’t make green chili the New Mexican way, my green chili is still worthy of the name. And it’s also a darn fine pleasure to eat. So in celebration of National Chili Month and in honor of miscommunication I present to you my green chili—proof that sometimes a misunderstanding can lead to something good.
1 pound poblano peppers
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
6 cloves garlic
4 pounds boneless pork butt, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup Mexican lager
1 pound tomatillos, chopped
6 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 cup chopped cilantro
4-10 Serrano chiles, seeded, stemmed, and chopped
4-10 jalapeños, seeded, stemmed, and chopped
1/4 cup masa harina
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream, for serving
Tortillas, for serving
Roast the poblanos under the broiler for 10 minutes, turning once, or until blackened. Place in a paper bag for about 20 minutes. After this, the skins should come right off. Then seed and dice the peeled poblanos.
In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, fry the onion in peanut oil until cooked, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for a couple of minutes more. Turn off the pot and remove the onions and garlic.
Working in batches, add to the pot the pork, lightly browning on each side for a couple of minutes and then add to the soup pot. You will probably have to do this in batches.
Once all the pork has been lightly browned and return the onions and garlic added to the pot, and add the chicken broth and beer. Also throw in the pot the tomatillos, 3 tablespoons of cumin, 1 tablespoon of Mexican oregano and half of your chiles. (I varied the number of jalapenos and serranos based on heat—the more you add the hotter it will be. If you don’t want it too fiery, just stick to 4 of each.)
Turn on the stove to medium and bring chili to a boil and then turn heat down to low. Simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.
After an hour, add 3 tablespoons of cumin, 1 tablespoon of oregano, 1/3 cup of cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook for half an hour uncovered on low, stirring occasionally. At this point, you’ll probably notice a nice brown oil slick on the top of the pot. I skim the fat by sticking in a ladle and dragging it over the surface. This isn’t foolproof, but it gets rid of most of the fat.
After half an hour, throw in the rest of the green chiles in the pot and add another 1/3 cup of cilantro. Cook for another half an hour to 45 minutes.
In a separate dish, mix the masa harina with some of the chili liquid until a thick paste is formed. Slowly stir this into the chili until it’s well incorporate without any lumps. Continue to cook for another 15 minutes. Goes great with sour cream and tortillas.
Note: As with all things savory, the spice and herb amounts are just a guide. I usually make adjustments as necessary by tasting as I cook.