By the time New Mexico gained statehood early in the 20th century, it already drew on culinary traditions reaching back centuries, even millennia. What New Mexicans were, and are, eating took in influences sequential residents, be they Anglo, Mexican, Spanish or, before them, the Pueblo and the Zuni, contributed to the melting pot.
Today’s preparations reflect two of those ideas, New Mexico Chile Chicken and Southwestern Corn and Potato Soup. The soup appeared in the late Gourmet‘s 2009 recipe collection, while the Hispanic Kitchen website inspired the chicken. Both are delicious and feed a hungry and growing nation.
Despite its vibrant red hue, the chicken bastes without tomatoes. Instead, the sauce consists of dried New Mexico chiles softened in hot water then drained, pulverized and combined with cumin, garlic and water. That’s all.
It’s not particularly hot, either. Southwestern US cuisine often is, though today’s dish proves not all cooking from the region must be tomato-based and taunting Scoville. Oh, the chiles definitely bring warmth, but their main party piece is flavor, not burn. The sauce gives diners a chance to appreciate the pepper’s subtlety and nuance, before introducing a subtle tingle.
The soup is a good companion for the bird, starting as it does with chicken stock. Potatoes and corn add substance, while onions and jalapeño provide a certain heat. In fact, despite having “cooler” colors than does the chicken, the soup actually is a bit hotter, both in terms of temperature and of spice. Not to worry, though, as cilantro and lime juice moderate this considerably. It’s beautifully-balanced overall.
New Mexico may have been the 47th state to join the nation, but dishes like these two ensure it’s far above 47th in taste. The cuisine has been confined to the borderlands for too long and now it’s gaining greater recognition and is earning appreciation across the country, and even beyond.
Southwestern Corn and Potato Soup
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped (*1)
- 1 fresh jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
- 2 large yellow-fleshed potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 3 and 1/4 cups chicken broth
- 1 cup water
- 1 10-ounce package of frozen corn, not thawed
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
Place a large saucepan over a medium flame and add oil. (*2) When it shimmers, add the onion, jalapeño, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 8 minutes.
Add broth, water and potatoes, then cover pot, increase flame to high, and bring to a boil.
Reduce flame and remove lid. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, about 14 minutes.
Coarsely mash the potatoes in the pot with a potato masher. (*3) Stir in the corn and simmer for three more minutes.
Add salt to taste, and stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Ladle into individual bowls and serve.
1 – Be kinder to the soup (and to yourself) and substitute two medium shallots.
2 – Though it’s advice from halfway around the globe, Martin Yan’s dictum applies here too, “Hot wok, cold oil, food won’t stick.” In other words, bring your saucepan up to temperature before adding the oil. Much better results this way.
3 – Which I don’t have, as I’m not writing from a Little House on the Prairie. However, the back of a wooden spoon does just as good a job.
New Mexico Chile Chicken
- 3 boneless chicken breasts (*4)
- 6 dried New Mexico peppers
- 2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- juice of 1 lemon
- granulated garlic, to taste
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- Mexican oregano (*5)
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
Stem the peppers and remove the seeds. (*6) Transfer them to a medium-size glass bowl and cover them with water. Cook them in a microwave for 6 minutes. Stir water and let it cool slightly. Drain the liquid and place the peppers in a blender, along with the garlic, cumin, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 and 1/2 cups of water. Blend until smooth and set aside.
Butterfly he chicken breast so you have six pieces. (*4) Season with salt, pepper and granulated garlic on both sides. Transfer to a glass baking dish and spread out in an even layer. Pour lemon juice over the chicken, then pour on the peppers you blended. Cover and marinate overnight, and up to 24 hours.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook it. Place a large skillet over a medium flame and add the oil. When it shimmers, place the chicken in the skillet in a single layer. Cook six minutes per side.
Remove chicken to a serving platter and allow it to rest for a few minutes, then sprinkle it with Mexican oregano and serve.
4 – Instead of three breasts I selected six boneless, skinless thighs. Not only are they much more flavorful, but the thighs already are thin enough and don’t need to be butterflied, thus saving a step.
5 – You may substitute “regular” oregano, but the Mexican version is more floral and refined. Plus it’s a natural for New Mexican cuisine.
6 – I’d suggest cutting the pepper into three sections after removing the stem. This makes it easier to extract all the seeds before you soak the pepper. Else, you’ll find seeds after soaking, when they’re more difficult to extract. I wish someone had offered me this advice before I started…