Much of New Mexico’s culinary influence made the journey as well- the use of chile, mutton, and an appreciation for advovada (marinated pork). From this foundation, Colorado-Mexican cuisine evolved. The chile turned into more of a gravy, almost indistinguishable from nacho cheese to the outside eye but fierce, verdant, a Rocky Mountain ratatouille with pork bits, tomatoes, jalapeños, diced green chile, salt, and red chile powder, a soothing balm to guard against furious winters.
The Mile High City’s contributions to Southwestern food aren’t just a galaxy apart from Mexican; they’re an entire universe… The green chile has an orange tint, not as a shoutout to the Denver Broncos, but because of all the tomato. It’s more like a stew than a sauce, yet it’s consistently hotter than chile in New Mexico (albeit less hot than Pueblo-style).
(As a side note, if this sort of stuff interests you at all, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America is a super engaging read and governs a lot of what I know about Mexican food – highly recommended!)
And so, with that foundation of knowledge, I set out to try to recreate this iconic dish. Typically I can get a recipe where I want it in three or four tries. I am well past eight tries on this one, over the course of the last couple of years – basically the entire time this blog has existed. I know the ingredients look simple! But it took me a fair amount of time to really dial in this Denver green chile recipe.
So how do you eat Colorado green chile? The answer is, you can’t go wrong. If you buy a pint of it in a restaurant, you’ll probably get a side of tortillas to dip in it, like soup. Sometimes that’s the complete meal! But around here, we also use it to smother (what I consider to be) the iconic dish of our city – the breakfast burrito. You can’t throw a shoe around here without hitting someone selling breakfast burritos, moreover green chile smothered breakfast burritos. I was so struck by this cultural phenomenon when I moved here. It’s the best. Beyond enchiladas, burritos, tacos and other American Southwest / Mexican favorites, it’s excellent on top of eggs, beans, hash browns, tortilla chips, mashed potatoes and just about anything else you can imagine!
I use roasted Hatch green chiles in this recipe, although I recognize that Pueblo green chiles are the proper local choice. The reality is that these two types if chiles are almost indistinguishable- in fact, they are the same type of chile grown in different locations. There is no substitute for these peppers! They are available in the fall but can be stored year-round in the freezer; it’s worth it to make the investment. Click here for more info on what these chiles are, where to find them and how to store them.
Despite what Gustavo Arellano said above, I find that in the case of Santiago’s, the green chile isn’t that spicy, even the ‘hot’. For that reason, I recommend using mild roasted Hatch green chiles if you’re aiming for the perfect Santiago’s copycat recipe. But on a personal level, I prefer my green chile spicier and tend to make this recipe with hot – or at least medium – peppers.
Another ingredient that requires mentioning is the pork broth. Pork broth really helps dial in that signature Colorado green chile flavor, but can be tough to find. I found pork broth cubes by Knorr at my local Asian grocery – I didn’t have any luck at the Hispanic markets I tried. If you can’t find pork broth, water is practically as good, and the much more common ingredient used in restaurants. Just DO NOT substitute chicken broth! This is a pork-based dish, and chicken doesn’t factor in as a flavor at all. If you use pork broth, your chile will be a little darker in color than some of the more vibrant local options. In the pictures on this post, I used water instead of broth to maintain that nice color.
I also have one quick note about the equipment. After lots of testing, I can confirm that the best way to achieve the perfect texture is to immersion blend your green chile. I can’t tell you the science behind WHY this is; I can just say that it’s true. If you don’t have an immersion blender, a regular blender will get you a texture that’s about 80% there.
Denver Green Chile
Found nowhere but here, Denver green chile is one of those regional specialties that makes us, us!
- 12-14 medium roasted Hatch or Pueblo green chiles
- 1/2 lb pork tenderloin
- 1/4 cup lard (see note above)
- 1 8-oz can no-salt-added tomato sauce
- 4 cups pork broth or water (Do NOT substitute chicken broth!)
- 1/4 cup white flour
- 1/4 cup water
- salt to taste
Roughly chop 10-12 of your roasted Hatch or Pueblo green chiles, reserving 2 of them to use later. Place in the bottom of your slow cooker.
Heat a cast iron or other heavy bottomed pan over high heat and melt lard. If you haven't already, cut a 1/2 lb chunk off of your pork tenderloin. Sear tenderloin in the lard, undisturbed, for 2-3 minutes on each side.
Add pork, lard, tomato sauce and pork broth / water into slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours.
After 8 hours, remove pork and let rest on a cutting board. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and water until smooth. Pour into the slow cooker.
To achieve perfect texture, immersion blend the mixture in the slow cooker until smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, pour into a blender in batches and blend until as smooth as possible.
Shred pork and return to the slow cooker. Chop your remaining 2 green chiles and add those as well. Replace the lid and let it cook until thickened, another 30-45 minutes.
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