Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Summoning of the Luck, Rancho Winslow New Year's Day


Mick's Mile-high Skillet Cornbread

Southern Soulfood-Style Blackeyed Peas

A mess of collard greens and potlikker

Tradition dictates that on New Year’s Day I venture forth to Rancho Winslow, with seasoned cast iron Dutch ovens at the ready, to cook skillet corn bread, with big batches of black eyed peas and collard greens. It’s a Southern thing, and my way of forcing my friends to have good luck in the coming year. The way I figure it, I clear the way with a massive dose of Southern good luck grub, and the rest is up to them. I’ve done all that I can.

Chiminea aglow with delightfully aromatic piñon pine wood

CBoy and princess Di hold court, and the rest of the gang included Tom and Caroline Colwell, Baker Britton and his squeeze Kayla, Jeff “Mr. Saxophone” Barnes, his wife Gina, and her Austin bud Jennie, Grover and Jill Swift, Sarah Winslow and her golf pro pal Kevin Ostrowski, and me. Usually CBoy selects some form of pork to go with the meal, since the thought of just cornbread and vegetables making the meal seems wrong somehow, like a violation of our Southernossity. The powers that be, the saints up above, and the angelic hosts all agreed a long time ago that a New Year’s Day feast required the addition of some type of meat. Usually it’s some of Grover’s excellent sausage, but this day it was a couple of big pork tenderloins, which I slathered with salt and pepper, garlic powder, comino, and a healthy dose of chipotle meco powder, blended into some oil, to form a marinade.

Marinated pork tenderloin outside, venison backstrap inside

Chimayó New Mexican red chile sauce

When Baker and I were discussing the cornbread recipe, he mentioned that he had some venison backstrap in an ice chest in his car, harvested from the family ranch a few days before, so I suggested that he mix it in with the pork to get some marinade on it, and we’d cook it all together. I browned them all in the skillet, and then finished them in the oven, before they got a 15 minutes rest prior to slicing. The pork was moist and spicy, and the venison perfectly rare to medium-rare. That stuff just melted in your mouth it was so tender. I had also thrown together a rather frisky New Mexico red chile sauce using my stash of Chimayó heirloom red chile powder, which tasted great with the pork and venison (see recipe below). We also had a pan full of fresh garlic pork sausage, and some poblano and cheese chicken sausage, which I roasted off in the oven. The cornbread was assembled by Kayla and Diane using my recipe, and we included some pickled serrano, garlic and scallion, monty-cheddar cheese mix, and some bicolor corn. The collards were made with onion and garlic, smoked bacon, chicken stock, and balsamic vinegar with a little black pepper for heat and a touch of sugar to balance the vinegar.

Kayla's guacamole

Caroline's spiced pecans

The festive fruit and nut plate

The blackeyed peas were loaded with bacon, chicken stock, carrot, celery, onion, and garlic, seasoned with some black pepper, thyme, and bay leaf. Diane had assembled a really nice green salad. Kayla made a huge batch of guacamole to nosh on, and Jennie had a decorative fruit and nut tray. Caroline had brought a big box of freshly roasted spiced pecans to nibble on, and these was plenty of leftover rum (excellent mixed with hot chocolate, by the way), and even some beer and red wine to go with. Someone had plated a block of cream cheese and covered with some sweet and spicy, crunchy, pickled jalapeño relish, which was nice on crackers. Out on the covered deck outside the cast iron chiminea had been set up by Sarah and Kevin, and there was an aromatic and thigh singeing blaze going in there, fueled by chunks of piñon pine that made the whole backyard smell like New Mexico.

Di's salad

Cream cheese and jalapeño relish

My meat plate...note yummy rare venison

My bowl of greens, with cornbread soaking up potlikker....note golden brown crust from the hot cast iron skillet

Every single dish was fantastic, and each bite oozed with good luck and portent for the coming year. I hate to brag, but we kicked ass with our lucky foods, and with the hard part over with, all we have to do this year is sit back and reap the benefits. THAT’S how you do it.  

For the recipes, see:

For some backstory on good luck foods around the world, and where out good luck food traditions came from, read this article I wrote for the Austin Chronicle and trends will begin to reveal themselves:

For information on chipotle and Chimayó chiles:

Meco chipotle chiles, left, and morita chipotle chiles, right
(from spicehouse.com)

Chipotle / Chilpotle                                     2,500 to 10,000 Scoville Units
Chipotle chile’s name derives from the Nahuatl word chilpoctli, which means “smoked chile pepper”, AKA chile ahumado, chile meco, and chilpotle. It is believed that the thick fleshed jalapeños were smoke dried because they tended to rot before drying. In its dried form, the traditional chipotle chile is a dull tan to deep coffee brown in color with a wrinkled surface. The chipotle is usually 2 to 4 inches long and 1 inch across, with medium thick flesh. The taste profile is smoky and sweet, exhibiting subtle tobacco and chocolate flavors with a Brazil nut finish, and deep, complex heat. The piquancy is rounded and slowly fading, not sharp and intense, and usually in the 5,000 to 10,000 Scoville unit range. Chipotles are commonly used in soups, stews, sauces, salsas, marinades, salads, stuffed with fillings, and these days, in desserts.

There are two main types of chipotles: morita and meco. Morita, which means “small mulberry” in Spanish, is grown primarily in Chihuahua State, and smaller than the meco, with a dark reddish-purple exterior. They are smoked for less time, and considered inferior to the meco. Most of the chipotles consumed in the States are moritas.

The larger chipotle meco, also known as chile ahumado or típico, is a grayish-tan in color with a dusty looking surface. Some say the color and finish resembles a cigar butt. They tend to be smokier in taste, and are the preferred chipotle of most natives. They are also sometimes called chile navideño because they are reconstituted and stuffed to make a very traditional dish popular at Christmas time. Most chipotle meco never makes it north of the Mexican border, although you can occasionally find it for sale here in Mexican and specialty markets, and from online specialty vendors.

Chipotle grande is a smoke dried Huachinango.chile with a similar flavor profile, but the chile is larger, and they cost more. Fresh in the market, they sell for 3 to 4 times as much as a jalapeño, when you can find them. A Huachinango is a fresh red jalapeño grown in Puebla and Oaxaca, measuring 4 to 5 inches long by 1½ inches wide, with a thick, sweet flesh and a rounded, complex spiciness. A chipotle tamarindo is even larger than the grande, acquiring its name from the shape of the tamarind fruit pod. It costs even more than the grande, and is the most prized of stuffing peppers. When you see a chipotle labeled jalapeño chico, it is a jalapeño that was smoked while it was immature and still green. Every now and then you might find chipotles capones (“castrated chipotles”), referring to a smoked red jalapeño without seeds, which tend to be much milder. In the market you’ll find chipotles as whole chiles, as powdered chile, and canned (packed in adobo sauce). Chipotles are principally grown and smoked in Véracruz, Oaxaca, Sinaloa, Chihuahua, South Texas, and Southern New Mexico.

La Morena Chipotles en Adobo (from mexgrocer.com)

Americans are most familiar with the canned variety, packed in adobo sauce. Adobo sauce originated in Spain as a marinade or food preservative, and was widely adopted by all of the areas visited by the Spanish explorers. The adobo sauce used with canned chipotles is technically a marinade, in this case, usually made of tomato, powdered dried ancho or guajillo chiles or paprika, brown sugar, salt, onions, vinegar, garlic, bay leaves, and oregano. Some brands and home cooks add a small amount of sesame oil. La Morena brand has the most intense chipotle flavor and the best flavored adobo sauce, with accents of rich tomato, garlic, dried chile, and a touch of sesame. San Marcos is the brand known best in Austin stores, and probably next best of the many brands offered, including La Costeña, Goya, Herdez, Embassa, El Mexicano, La Victoria, Roland, etc. San Marcos (and other brands) also makes a canned chipotle sauce that is basically pureed chipotles en adobo, which is easy to use straight from the can. Canned chipotles are often of the morita type, because the smaller size is easier to fit whole into the small cans. In Central Mexico, when chipotles are preserved in a sweet-tart brown sugar and vinegar marinade, they are called chipocludo. Chipotles canned in a seasoned sauce are called chipotles adobado, or en adobo. Chipotles are typically used in salsas, queso, soups and stews, chile con carne (chili), cooked sauces, pickled vegetable mixes, salads, scrambled eggs or chilaquiles, stuffed and baked, added to cake or brownies, etc.

Chimayó New Mexico Red Chile Powder

Sun dried Chimayó chile powder, left, and machine dried right, from ElPortrero.com

Any of the New Mexico green chile varieties listed in the fresh chile list above can be left on the plant to ripen to deep crimson, to then be sun or oven dried, and then sold whole or powdered. The ratio of mild to hot chiles included in the grind determines the final heat level of a powder (there are New Mexico chile varieties that go all the way up to 70,000 Scoville Units), so the heat of a red chile powder can be very pronounced. New Mexico chiles are grown outside of New Mexico in Chihuahua and other northern Mexico states, with some specialty crops grown in the Rio Grande Valley. It is 5 ½ to 8 inches long by 1 ½ to 2 inches wide, and a deep red, glossy, thick-fleshed pod that can be straight or curved. The flavor is unique from other red chiles, with an earthy, rich, sweet, mild to spicy flavor and a hint of smoke. Of the red chile varieties available, Sandia is probably the most common. Chimayó is considered the best, however.

New Mexico red chiles drying in the traditional ristra form (from thechileshop.com)

The Chimayó chile and the village of the same name just north of Santa Fe, takes its moniker from the Tewa Indian word for “flaking red stone”. This red chile has been in New Mexico so long that most consider it an indigenous native, but the backstory insists that colonial entrepreneur Don Juan de Oñate brought this special heirloom variety to Chimayó from Mexico in 1598 when he settled the area with a land grant from the King of Spain. Chimayó chiles are known for their unique, rich, earthy flavor with a hint of complex sweet smokiness and a medium piquancy. The plant is a smaller fruited, fast maturing variety, adapted to the chilly nights and early freezes of the area’s valleys. Although most people are familiar with the deep-crimson ripe chiles, they are also eaten green, but difficult to roast and peel because of their twisted shape and thin skin. When the ripe chiles are picked, they are strung on ristras to hang outside to dry in crisp fall sun and the arid breezes. It is said that if a ristra is the height of the person stringing it, it should be able to provide enough red chile for the coming year (assuming the chiles are tightly-packed). Sun dried chile powder is more of an orange color, but the flavor is the most authentic. Oven dried chile is darker red, caused by the roasting process. Chimayó powder is considered one of the best in the Southwest and the supply is limited, so prices tend to be quite high. With increased demand, more farmers are planting the Chimayó heirloom seeds to increase production, but it’s best to purchase Chimayó chile powder from a reliable, local source that guarantees authenticity, such as El Portero Trading Post (AKA “The Vigil”), which is located in the small mountain valley hamlet of Chimayó, New Mexico.         

Chile Rojo · Chimayó New Mexico Red Chile Sauce
Yield about 3 cups

When your server asks the famous NewMex question: “Red or green?” this is the “red” in question. If you’ve ever been to New Mexico, you’ve seen the brilliant dark red chiles drying in the sun, hanging stringed together in what are called ristras. You’ve seen them in artwork and -on postcards, but it goes beyond aesthetics. This is how the chiles were hung and sun dried in the old days. Red chile is classified by heat level when you buy from a reliable source, determined by the chile variety, the conditions under which the chile was grown, and by how many of the seeds and ribs were left in when the dried chiles were ground into powder. Hatch chile gets all of the buzz these days, but when it comes to red chile, the red chile powder from chiles grown around Española and the little village of Chimayó are considered the very best and most desirable (both towns are about 30 miles north of Santa Fe).

3 Tablespoons lard, duck or chicken fat, or vegetable oil
½ large yellow onion, grated on a box grater
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 to 2 Tablespoons harina de maíz (dry corn tortilla mix), or AP flour, as required
2 ½ cups light chicken stock, heated
¼ cup Chimayó red chile powder, medium hot (or a little more, to taste)
¼ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, crumbled
¼ teaspoon comino (optional)
1 teaspoon salt

1. Add the lard, fat, or oil to a medium saucepan over medium heat and heat until shimmering. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 45 seconds. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add flour and whisk until smoothly incorporated into the fat, cooking while whisking until the roux begins to turn a light tan. Whisk together the stock and the chile powder in a separate bowl until all lumps are eliminated. Slowly whisk that combined liquid into the roux, making sure no lumps form. Whisk in the oregano, cumin (if using), and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and slowly simmer for 30 minutes, while stirring periodically.

2. Taste and adjust seasonings to preference. Reserve for service, hot.

Mick Vann ©

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