As summer draws to an end, and football season is set to kick off, we are preparing for fall weather and dreaming of cozy Sundays by the television, cheering on our favorite team amongst family and friends. As we’re sure you will agree, there is nothing better than a delicious chili on brisk afternoons, so we encourage you to try The Fort’s Chile Con Carne, New Mexican-style, at home.
Sam Arnold made this dish when his two children were young, and it has always been a family favorite. Not surprisingly, when The Fort opened in 1963, Sam put the chili on the menu for special occasions.
“When I first lived in Santa Fe in 1948, I learned from restaurateur Luis Salazar how to make real New Mexican chili con carne,” Sam wrote. “Mr. Salazar came from a long line of Santa Feans and at his Original Mexican Café on College Street, everything was made from scratch. He boiled the blue kernel corn in huge kettles with slaked lime to make posole and the masa for corn tortillas. He dried ripe red Espanola Valley chiles and then stemmed, cleaned, and cooked them to make red chile con carne, which translates to “chili with meat.”
“Mr. Salazar’s chili con carne recipe reflects the cuisine of the little villages north of Santa Fe, which are very different from those in southern New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. It contains no beans, no tomato, no onion, no cumin and only a slight touch of garlic and Mexican leaf oregano. Twice-cooking the pork, first to poach it and then to brown and caramelize it, gives the chili great depth of flavor. The longer you simmer it, the more tender the pork will be, and the thicker the chili. Additional cornmeal will thicken it, too.”
“This dish is easy to digest because it contains no tomatoes, which are acidic and contribute to indigestion,” said Sam. “Once you taste it, you may never go back to the tomato-and-kidney bean-based recipes.”
Chile Con Carne New Mexican-Style
(serves 4 to 6)
- 2 pounds bone-in pork shoulder (pork butt), trimmed and cut into fist-sized pieces
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil or rendered pork or bacon fat
- 1/4 cup cornmeal (blue, yellow or white)
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 1/2 cup Red Chile Purée*
- 1/2 teaspoon dried Mexican leaf oregano
- Salt, to taste
For best results, start this recipe a day ahead to give the broth time to cool completely so it can be thoroughly defatted. Place the pork in a heavy-bottomed soup pot, and add enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer the pork gently for 1.5 hours. Remove the meat, place in a large bowl and place the broth in the refrigerator. When the pork is cool enough to handle, cut the meat away from the bone, and dice into 1⁄4-inch cubes. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
When cool, skim off the fat from the top of the chilled pork broth. Bring the defatted broth to a simmer. Heat the oil in a deep skillet until smoking. Dry the reserved pork cubes with a paper towel and sear in the oil until thoroughly browned. Add the browned meat to the broth. Add 1/2 cup of broth to the skillet, and stir to loosen and incorporate the browned bits.
Stir together the cornmeal and water. Add this mixture to the broth in the skillet, stirring well to thicken. Remove about 1/2 cup broth from the soup pot, and set aside in case the chili needs thinning after it has simmered. Pour the broth and cornmeal mixture into the pot, and add the Red Chile Puree. Adjust the seasonings with oregano and salt. Simmer for 20-30 minutes to blend the flavors, then serve piping hot.
*To make Red Chile Purée, place 12 dried New Mexican red chiles or 1/2 cup pure New Mexican ground red chile (medium to mild; Medium Dixon is best), 1 peeled garlic clove, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon oregano, and 1 cup hot water in blender, and pulse on and off until pureed. The mixture should be loose and pourable (if needed, add a bit more water). Press the puree through a coarse strainer into a bowl.