Stovetop Diplomat

Denver Green Chile

Denver Green Chile

17 Comments
Found nowhere but here, Denver green chile is one of those regional specialties that makes us, us!

I created this as a copycat Santiago’s green chile recipe, although the result is indicative of the style in general. Gustavo Arellano was the first person to articulate to me what makes this style of green chile unique in his book Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. He writes of settlers in the San Luis valley,
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.
In another article, he describes the style as such:
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.

The best part was getting to consider it “work” to try all of the famous green chiles in my beloved city. It helps that Santiago’s sells their sauce in the freezer section of many Colorado grocery stores, and I was able to study the ingredients. And because I spent so much time practicing and perfecting it, I can guarantee – this is the perfect Front Range -style recipe. Whether you’re missing Colorado or you’ve just moved here, this recipe will scratch that green chile itch just right!
breakfast-burrito-smothered-in-Denver-green-chile-and-melted-cheese-with-beans-and-rice

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.

And finally: the lard. Lard is a key part of developing the flavor and cannot be substituted. I know lard sounds like a scary ingredient in the modern world! But the reality is that lard has gotten a bad PR break in the past and is starting to make a comeback. Check out my write-up on its health pros and cons, where to find it, and how to choose the best lard here.
rectangle-dish-with-Denver-green-chile-and-wooden-spoon

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!

Course Main Course, Salad, Sauces, Side Dish
Cuisine American Southwest
Keyword authentic, colorado green chile, front range green chile, Santiago's copycat, slow cooker
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 9 hours
Servings 6 cups

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Add pork, lard, tomato sauce and pork broth / water into slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

Currently Listening: Bayonne – Drastic Measures

17 comments on “Denver Green Chile

    • stovetopdiplomat

      This was the combination that I felt most accurately fit the ingredient list on Santiago’s packaged green chile, as well as the flavor! That said, I’m a total garlic monster and there is no world where that wouldn’t be a great addition!

      • WHAT KIND OF PORK BROTH AND WHERE CAN I BUY IT? I ONLY SEE KNORR CUBES I TRYED AND THEY HAD NO FLAVOR. I HAVE THE REST OF INGREDS. AND CAN’T WAITE TO TRY THIS RECIPE.

        Star
        • stovetopdiplomat

          To be honest, the kind I use most often is the Knorr cubes! Pork broth can be hard to find. I will say, although it does add a little more “porkiness” to the flavor, it is the one ingredient that isn’t truly necessary – your results will be practically the same if you use water, which I recommend! Just be sure not to use chicken or any other kind of broth!

    • stovetopdiplomat

      Great question! Because of its gravy-like consistency, it has several awesome applications. It can be used as a sauce to smother burritos (like in the picture), enchiladas, nachos, tacos or any other Mexican or American southwest favorites! It’s also killer on top of eggs, potatoes, corn bread, hominy and much more. Around here, it also is just served in a bowl like soup with tortillas or chips to dip in it!

  1. Quick question. My Aunt has told me to use jalapeños instead of green chili’s. My grandmother always used canned green chili’s. Is there a big difference?

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    • stovetopdiplomat

      Hello, thanks for the question! I STRONGLY advise against using jalapeños in this recipe, or most others that call for Hatch green chiles. Unfortunately these flavor profiles and behaviors while cooking are just totally different and it won’t turn out well. A green sauce made out of an equivalent amount of jalapeños would be spicy indeed! Fresh or frozen roasted Hatch green chiles are always going to be your best bet, but in a pinch canned will do. Thanks for reaching out!! Let me know if you have any more questions!

  2. Thanks for the recipe. I will be trying it out this week.

    As a person who is also trying to develop a Santiago’s clone, here’s a few thoughts.

    I would sub the tenderloin for shoulder. Way cheaper, more flavorful, and harder to mess up.

    Santiago’s chile does seem to have jalapeno’s in it, provided you are ordering half and half or hot. I can verify as a had a smothered burrito from them yesterday! Could be wrong, it’s possible they are just cutting some dynamites in along with the other mild hatch variety. Regarding jalapenos, for the home application I would suggest being careful about the brand. Some of the canned varieties seem to have that sour pickle flavor going on. Don’t want that.

    I’m nearly positive there are spices listed on the label of their frozen green chile at the supermarket. I would guess powdered onion, powdered garlic, coriander maybe, cumin maybe.

    Nice pork-y lard can be found on the butcher case of any of the small mercados around Denver. It will be room temp so very soupy. Make sure it’s in a stable place in your car for the ride home!

    The pics you have provided look spot on. Really excited to try this recipe. Thank you!

    Star
    • Matt, you sound like you know what you are talking about. I moved to Montana and miss Santiago’s so much. Not much good Mexican up here. Gotta make it if you want it!

      Star
  3. Lynn Lucius

    I love Santiago’s green chili! We have eaten there for many years. We moved from Thornton, Co to Edmond Oklahoma in January 2022. This place doesn’t know what green chili gravy is. Restaurants don’t have it. They use a runny green or red sauce on there food. Smothered bean burritos aren’t on menus. You can’t buy fire roasted green chilis in the frozen section. I buy Anaheim peppers and roast them on the BBQ grill. I put the pork butt in the Instant pot with the spices and water and cook for 30 min.I then use the broth in the green chili sauce. Mexican stores have Manteca. (Pork lard) or make my own with bacon fat. There is a certain taste in Santiagos chili that I can’t figure out. I’ve used sage and mustard powder that I have seen in other copy kat recipes. Still not the same as Santiago’s.Your recipe has no spices in it? Garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano, jalapeño powder.
    I like my green chili recipe but it’s not Santiago’s. They are not shipping their chili at this time. Before we moved I bought 10quarts. It’s was gone in 3 months! I will be going to Denver in June. I will stock up on it again.

    Star

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