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KotW: New Mexico Food, Part Three. July 17, 2008

Posted by sarawr in herbs & spices, Kip of the Week, New Mexico, poultry.

ZIA RISING: Chicken with Red Chile and Vinegar

Zia is the blazing light of noon, but not only that. In his all-seeing arc over the land, Zia is also the scarlet of sunrise and sunset — and of the red chile.

The red pepper is an altogether deeper thing than the green one, more mature, more complex. Above all the dried red pepper, brought forth and ripened and then shrunk to a husk by Zia himself, has irresistible power that we must invoke with respect and care. As green chile stew is rapture in a bowl, the dish called carne adovada is transcendence on a plate. This testimony to the red chile, if made right, is unforgettable.

Wherever the Spanish conquerors went, they took the adobo way of cooking with them. “Adobo” is the Spanish word for “marinade,” and to cook with it may at first have been primarily a way to preserve cooked food in hot climates. But the potent standard flavorings of adobo — garlic, onion, vinegar, bay leaves, and black or red pepper — with long simmering become a sauce for meat or poultry that is absolutely addictive.

Adobo was brought to many countries, and those countries in turn contributed to it. The chicken adobo of the Philippines, the pork adobado of Spain and the carne adovada of New Mexico are all quite different — and all utterly delicious. But only in New Mexico did adobo become the central dish of the feast of the Sun God. Get out your six-quart or eight-quart stewpot, and make this if you dare!


Some respectful disclaimers. Carne adovada in New Mexico is usually made with chunks of fresh pork shoulder — but that means a whole lot of boning, skinning, and hacking. In fairness you should then also use those bones and trimmings, together with the trimmings of the vegetables, to make stock… you see how much work this is! If you want to do it that way I’m not stopping you, any more than I’d stop myself; but this recipe is for pollo adovado, made with dark meat chicken that you only have to half-thaw and chop. In the interest of time, this recipe also assumes you have a food processor. And even so, you have to start preparing this either the night before, or on the morning of the day you want to serve it.

6 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs (usually, one warehouse-store bag)

Take these out of the freezer to half-thaw for easy chopping.

12-16 dried red chile pods, medium or hot
2 cups boiling water

Top the peppers, tip out and discard the seeds that will come out, rip the pods into chunks and chop them in a food processor. When you have fine flakes, slowly pour in the boiling water until the peppers are smooth slurry. Pour this into the six-quart pot to let it develop.

10-12 cloves garlic
two large yellow onions, chopped

In the food processor, mince the garlic. When all the garlic is on the walls of the tank, add the onions and pulse — until you have minced onions, not onion slush! Add this to the pot.

2 cups factory marinara sauce or diced tomatoes
Santa Fe, Bueno or Chimayo red chile powder as appropriate, see below
one-half cup flour
2 teaspoons (or more) ground cumin
2 teaspoons (or more) leaf oregano
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt

How much chile powder you use depends very much on how hot the powder is, and how hot you want the finished dish; but you always want the deep flavor of the pepper to come through along with the heat. For hot chile powder the right amount could be as little as a couple of tablespoons, for mild powder it could be as much as half a cup. Remember that in classic New Mexico cooking, chile powder can actually be intended to thicken the sauce.

Combine all the ingredients, process until smooth and add to the pot. Finally, spin

1/2 cup sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

in the food processor to rinse out the tank, and add that to the pot.

The chicken thighs
one cup (two four-ounce cans) diced mild green chiles
two to four bay leaves

Chop the chicken into bite-size pieces, adding it to the pot as you go. Add the diced green chiles and the bay leaves. Mix it with your hands, and I mean really massage it, maul it, make sure every side of every piece of meat is touched by the mixture. Then either

    cover and refrigerate overnight, or

    (assuming the chicken is still fairly cold) allow it to sit at room temperature for three to four hours.

Preheat your oven to 350° and bake this for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Toward the end of the cooking time, taste an occasional piece of chicken to make sure it doesn’t get overdone — you want each bite to be perfectly tender but not broken or stringy.

Finally, if necessary, use red flake pepper, El Pato tomato sauce, sriracha, or comparable heat to make this as hot as you want it. There should be plenty of sauce, but if you want more, add a couple of cups of chicken stock. Serve with hot white rice or warm flour tortillas, or both.

I have, I swear, made a double recipe of this in a 12-quart pot for a small Christmas party, and had it completely vanish in an hour. Good luck with yours!

(c) /KC July 2008



1. Anne - July 17, 2008

Zia is also ‘aunt’ in Italian. And I think your definition perfectly fits M’s slightly scary auntie.

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